Monday, October 30, 2006

What Apostasy Looks Like

John Derbyshire has a fascinating, if typically grim, column up on National Review describing how he lost his Christian faith. Now, one may argue that he never had it very much, but since he has accurately identified its core, believing that Jesus of Nazareth is divine and was bodily resurrected, and says that before the fall of 2004 he shakily believed in that, and now definitely does not, I think this can be taken as a description of apostasy.

It is an interesting confirmation. Back when I first began to go online, I liked Derbyshire, while sometimes disagreeing with him. Since then, particularly since about 2004, in fact, I've found the cast of his thought increasingly alien and indeed repulsive to me.

The culprit in his apostasy that he identifies is modern biology, and specifically the idea that humanity has no fixed nature because of its constantly evolving genome. It would not be too strong, I think, to say Darwinism killed his Christianity. (What he would rather say perhaps, and does in almost those words, is that modern biology killed his residual, lingering creationism.)

What lessons can we learn from this?

1) Darwinism is indeed an anti-Christian viewpoint.

2) Pascal's wager still holds. At least as a writer and thinker, John Derbyshire seems to have become a significantly less pleasant figure for losing his Christian faith. To that extent, his own case seems to disprove his contention that "Mostly, I think [religious faith] makes no difference. Evelyn Waugh would have been no more obnoxious as an atheist."

3) Even so, we need to remember that the core of the Christian faith is not measurable progress in sanctification, but in the forgiveness of sins. We believe mostly by faith and only partly by sight that people do get better by being Christians, but that is not why we should be Christians. We should be Christians even if we can't see ourselves getting better at all, because if we believe in Jesus we still have the forgiveness of our sins. (I've talked about this here.)

4) We need to properly relate nature and grace. This comment is striking:

[The experience of raising two kids] made me realize how perfectly natural religion is. We have a religious module in our brains, and with little kids you can actually watch it waking up and developing, like their speech or social habits. The paradox is, that to the degree that you see religion as natural, to the same degree it becomes harder to see it (and by extension its claims) as supernatural.

Again, Pascal's wager still holds. Assuming the truth of this statement, going from being a Christian to being a Darwinist involves the disabling of a natural part of the brain, something like being no longer able to see colors or (to use the analogy he gives) being no longer able to experience sexual arousal.

Of course the point here is a old one that only religion which is completely disfunctional in one's life can be trusted. (I've touched on that here). Now, one can point out first off that we don't use this standard with any other brain function ("It is so natural to exercise vision, which casts serious doubt on whether objects exist"; "You can actually see sexual interest being aroused in boys; clearly girls don't exist," etc.), why should we use it with this part of the brain (if part of the brain for religion there indeed be?)

Remember, that this whole way of reasoning began as a Christian (esp. Augustinian and Reformed) critique of idolatrous religion: that which helps us achieve our natural desires can only be a product of wish-fulfillment. Harriet Beecher Stowe has something of a novelistic riposte to this that begins with Jacob at Bethel. For now, it is worth repeating that while to say we all naturally believe in the Christian religion is to deny the Fall, to say that the Christian religion has no positive relation to our pre-redemption existence is to deny the fundamental doctrine of recapitulation (that redemption involves re-doing, right this time, the creation in Eden).

5) Yet at the same time, the Evangelical teaching of the bondage of the will and the answer of incarnation in resolving theodicy (again, summarized here), is an important part of our response. The theodicy of free will assumes that 1) free will exists and that 2) in some minimal sense all have "a chance" to exercise it in matters of faith, that is, that in some basic sense we are all equally able to be saved, that the God of nature has not placed such fundamental blocks so as to defeat the God of grace. This seems to me far more vulnerable to "modern biology" than the Evangelical presentation of the issue (one which John Derbyshire obviously never heard or assimilated in any way).

6) The "image of God," and hence our special creation, is not primarily (pace Reformed and Catholic emphases) the reasoning faculties, knowledge, freedom, etc., we possess (of which Derbyshire points out, grossly inferior, but not necessarily qualitatively different forms can be found in lower mammals like apes, elephants, and parakeets). Rather it is our inborn "bright light in the heart to know God and His work": the fear, love, and trust in God. This has been lost in the Fall, from which time on all humanity has been born in the image of Adam, not God. Thus the only true proof of the image of God in humanity, is that all humanity is capable of knowing and believing in Jesus, something which no animal, even in the most rudimentary way, can do.

What relation the innate religiosity of fallen man has to this true image of God is a theological question that really needs addressing.

7) Obviously, the final lesson for baptized Christian who mean to stay so is that the third commandment is to be obeyed ("Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy") in the New Testament sense, and the means of grace are to be attended to -- preaching, Bible reading, confession, and Holy Communion.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Memory Tricks in the Catechism

In memorizing the Small Catechism (go here [-- PDF alert]; old translation here) with my kids on Sunday, we came across the explanation of the fourth petition:

Give us this day our daily bread.

What does this mean?

God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all the wicked; but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to know it, and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.

One very practical feature of Luther's catechism is its ease of memorization. And as a sign of how Luther loved children it has all sorts of little hand-holds for flustered memories to grab hold of. In the Ten Commandments, for example, every explanation begins "We should fear and love God that . . . that . . . that . . ." As I tell my kids, Luther's giving you that crucial extra second to try to remember what comes after the "that" -- use it! And, no matter how painfully the recitation of the Creed's explanations went, every child on Confirmation Day can have perfect three-point landings three times in a row by concluding with a big smile, "This is most certainly true!"

Which brings us back to the list above. Lists are hard, but Luther has made this list easy and a support for life-long meditation. First of all the first ten items are all in the form of pairs: food and drink, clothing and shoes, house and home, land and animals, money and goods that go neatly from the most "primitive" and intimate needs to the most external and dependent on civilization. This is also easy to remember because the kids already went through much of it in the first article of the Creed (on God the Father and creation).

Then we have four classes or orders of social life, taken from Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Peter: husband/wife, children, workers (servants in the old translation), and rulers (magistrates in the old translation). Note here, the rulers as people are distinguished from government in the abstract which comes later along with weather. The implications are quite interesting: in the three household orders, devotion/piety alone are thanked, as if to say, to be a good husband, wife, son, daughter, master or servant it is simply sufficient to be pious, devout, and fear of God -- no other virtue is demanded. But to be a good magistrate -- well, let it never be said that Luther regards a magistrate being Christian or not as a matter of indifference. If we pray to God to be made thankful for a truly devout Christian magistrate, then when we have it that is necessarily a good thing. Later on, children may learn about "wise Turks" but here, at the foundation, they learn that they, and we, should hope for and be thankful when high officials and rulers are devout Christians.

But note, while piety alone is needed to be a good parent, child, or servant, for a ruler, something else is needed: faithfulness, which is exactly the character we are to prize in a neighbor ("faithful neighbors"). Here "faithfulness" is the characteristic virtue of non-familial relations, of the civic sphere. The ruler is in part like a father, but in part like a neighbor, a nice solution to the conundrums that wracked England's political life in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

So having dealt with the four types of structured human relations (husband-wife, parent-child, employer-worker, magistrate-citizen), we then deal with two states: good government and good weather. This is an easy pair to remember because each one has the word "good," and both are things that fall down on us from above, which we can prepare for one way or another, taking advantage when good and taking shelter when bad, but which ultimately we cannot control: good government is like good weather. It is also notable that faithful and devout rulers and good government are not necessarily the same -- Luther has no vain repetition here. Circumstances may make government bad when the ruler is faithful and devout, or vice versa. Both are good, and the combination of both is a great gift of God.

Next comes the four qualities in life we should be thankful for, each of which is in part something internal and in part something external: peace, health, self-control, a good reputation (honor in the old translations). This is arranged in ascending order of how much control we have over it in our living: some over peace, more over health, and most over self-control and honor. Or we can see it as the two states that feel comfortable and sometimes degenerate into sloth -- peace and health -- are placed first, while the two that are somewhat "highly strung" and may cause tension -- self-control and honor/reputation -- are placed after.

Finally we conclude with the general, unstructured human relations, good friends and faithful neighbors. Observe the difference of "good" and "faithful" here. As noted already, "faithful" -- meaning doing one's duty in an impartial fashion -- is the virtue of the civic realm, between people bound by obligations, not by particular friendship. "Goodness" however is something we receive from others that pleases us personally (and what is good government or good weather to a farmer may unavoidably not be such to a banker). We all should be thankful for friends who love us for being ourselves and also for neighbors who will do their duty us no matter who we are.

Question: if you could teach your children all this, why would you not want to?

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Who Are You, Who, Who? Who, Who?

Speaking of magic numbers . . .

I guess it really is true, that Lutherans do seem to have more identity problems than any other communion.

But when we talk about identity we're really talking about the Other -- in other words, "Who are we as Lutherans" actually means "Who is related to us and who isn't?" And in that context it makes a big differences, as in every game, how many parties there are. When someone divides the world into two parties, then the meaning is "Let's Rumble!" If someone divides the world into three parties, then the meaning is "Let's you and me ally first and the rumble with the other guy!" But if we divide the world into four parties, then the meaning is, "This isn't going to change anytime soon, better get used to it."

So when someone asks, "who are we as Lutherans?" I need to first of all know: how many types of Christians are there? And the answer will also push your definition of theological distinctives.

I. A few of the "Let's rumble!" Schemes:

1) Protestants vs. Catholics: In this scheme, we Lutherans (LCMS and ELCA alike) are just another denomination of Protestants, to join in pointing out the errors of Catholics. This was of course mostly advocated by non-Lutherans as the program we were just too slow to get with.

2) Spiritually alive Christians vs. spiritually dead Christians: in this one, Lutherans whose hearts are on fire about Jesus should join arms across denominational lines in a Spirit-empowered unity. Denominations should not be abandoned, but left to handle the boring stuff, like paying the bills and training pastors. This is a nice way of fighting but without admitting to yourself that you like to fight.

3) Liturgicals (or "small-c catholics") vs. non-liturgicals ("evangelicals"): In this scheme, Lutherans (LCMS and ELCA alike), along with Catholics, Orthodox, and Episcopalians, are traditional liturgical churches and we should follow along with the slogan "lex orandi, lex credendi." (I don't think that's quite right but it's a slogan of that school.)

4) Conservatives vs. liberals: Here the LCMS joins Southern Baptists, non-denominationals, Catholics, and Orthodox, and so on as just another component in the big pro-life, traditional family church movement.
As moral issues pull the liturgical bodies apart, 3) is being replaced by the updated:

5) "Traditionalists" (i.e. pro-life, "sex-has-rules" liturgicals) vs. liberals (in morals or liturgy): This is a lot like 4, but aesthetically more like 3: chant vs. praise songs; city vs. suburbs; crunchy vs. mainstream.

6) Orthodox vs. heterodox. This is the hard-core confessionals' Sinn Fein-style program: "Ourselves alone!" The Christian world is divided into real Lutherans and everyone else

7) Real churches (Catholic and Orthodox) vs. "ecclesial bodies" (everyone else). You'd think no Lutheran would actually support this, but Josh Strodtbeck's "excommunicated Catholic" idea seems to embrace this very identity.

II. Two of the "Strategize first, then rumble!" schemes:

1) The Conservative Reformation: In Charles Porterfield Krauth's version of the via media ("middle way") idea, Lutherans are the conservative reformation, other Protestants are the radical reformation, and the Catholics are the unreformed reactionaries. Confessional Lutherans should displace the Episcopalians as the real standard bearer of the conservative Reformation, assert leadership over the rest of the Protestant world, and then lead it to victory over Rome. Say what you will about this scheme, it is the only one ever offered to give Lutheranism some kind of actual distinctive role in world Christianity.

2) The Luthodox strategy: in this one, it is assumed that only "liturgical" "real presence" Christians count. In it, there are three bodies: Catholic, Lutheran, and Orthodox. The strategy is, Lutherans and Orthodox ally as the non-Papist, small-c catholics. This is a significant presence in the LCMS intelligentsia, and will probably remain so, unless and until its advocates convert to Orthodoxy.

III. Some "learn to live with each other" schemes:

1) The old American denominationalism in its Indiana version: Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists; or Missouri version: Episcopalians, Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists; or its Wisconsin version: Episcopalians, Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists.

2) My (on occasion) scheme of the four major theologies: Orthodox, Catholic, (Augsburg) Evangelical, Reformed.

You may wonder why the "evangelical catholic" terminology, ever-popular in intellectual circles, doesn't show up here. That's because I think it's more a slogan than a viewpoint or strategy. It is used alike by those who as "liturgicals" want to rumble with "generic American Christianity," by "traditionalists" defining themselves against those who have given in to modernity, by Luthodox who want an alliance with Constantinople, and even by "Ourselves alone"-ers who see themselves as the only real evangelical body and the only real catholic one.

The most interesting conclusion is that: people like to rumble. The dualistic, the rights vs the wrongs schemes are definitely the most common. In contrast strategizing or let it be schemes are much less popular. At least, that is, in the blogging world -- probably III.1 is the biggest in the pews. Those who want to rumble "off-line" are probably mostly into I.2 and I.4, with I.6 a distant third.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Fives, Sevens, and Nines

One of the things shared by East Asian and South Asian culture is a love of numbered categories, the "five relationship," the "three bonds," the "seven royal jewels," and so on. I like such numbered categories, too.

Of course they should be the right numbers. In all the recent ballyhoo about Pluto being recognized as the dwarf planet it is, not a real planet, not a single commentator mentioned the real problem, which is that we now have not nine planets, but eight. Now eight as a number of planets is ridiculous. Traditionally it has always been either seven (counting the visible planets, including the sun and moon that make up the days of the week) or nine. In the end, I am sure that we won't be left with only eight planets, so I wish the astronomers would hurry up and find the ninth.

But speaking of numbered categories, such categories can also be used in history. Here are a few of my favorites:

The five civilizations of Eurasia (being the five earliest civilizations who have scriptures which have survived by continuous transmission to today -- thus excluding ancient Egypt or Shinar/Babylon/Assyria). Counting these five gives us also five classics, five languages, and five religions/philosophies :

1. Greco-Roman; the Illiad and the Odyssey; Greek; (Neo-)Platonism
2. Israelite; the Law and the Prophets; Hebrew; Judaism
3. Iranian; the Avesta; Old Persian; Zoroastrianism
4. Indian; the Vedas and Upanishads; Sanskrit; Hinduism
5. East Asian; the Five Classics and Four Books; classical Chinese; Daoism

The four international creeds. These are the only four big -isms which one can speak of as large-scale, long-lasting, highly elaborated schemes to make sense of man and the universe. Unless you belong to one of the five ancestral ethnicities above, these are the only big world views you need to take seriously, whether for or against:

1. Buddhism
2. Christianity
3. Islam
4. Humanism ("scientism," etc.)

The seven theologians and the seven doctrines:

1. Ignatius; the real presence
2. Irenaeus; creation and recapitulation
3. Athanasius; the Trinity
4. Cyril of Alexandria; the two natures in Christ
5. Augustine; bondage of the will and gratuity of grace
6. Anselm of Canterbury; penal subtitutionary atonement
7. Martin Luther; justification by faith alone

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Maybe I'm Naive But . . .

Since I've written about the topic on the past, readers might wonder where I am on the question of "torture-lite," "enhanced interrogation techniques" and so on. The consensus of people on my side bar is clear. Mark Shea, for example, has made the new bill, based on the compromise between the White House and Republican Senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, the basis for officially any abandoning support of the Republican party, consigning it, like the pro-abort Democrats, to the ranks of parties in favor of gravely evil acts -- in this case torture (example here). Others speak of the shame of America, and so on.

Call me naive, but it seemed to me that a bait and switch was going on -- aided by the posturing of the White House. Up until the actual bill, the issue was specific "torture-lite" techniques: is waterboarding acceptable or not? Prolonged sleep-deprivation? Cold cells? But once the bill was passed, the word habeas corpus became the big thing.

Now, habeas corpus is important, but denying it isn't torture. It's not torture, for one thing because denial of the privilege of habeas corpus is explicitly provided for in the US Constitution as an expected consequence of domestic insurrection or foreign invasion (Article I, section 9: "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"). In short, whether the current war on terror is of a scale or nature to merit denial of habeas corpus is a purely prudential question. It has nothing to do with "intrinsically immoral" acts, the "shame of America," or "everything our religious values stand for" (this last is a quote from an email I received from the National Religious Coalition Against Torture) -- their position can be read here.

Puzzled by this unanimity about what seemed to me, on the actual question of torture, a satisfactory resolution, I actually looked up the text of the law that was passed S 3930 (click on version 4, the final one). And there in "Section 6: Implementation of Treaty Obligations," I found this:

(c) Additional Prohibition on Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment-

(1) IN GENERAL- No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

(2) CRUEL, INHUMAN, OR DEGRADING TREATMENT OR PUNISHMENT DEFINED- In this subsection, the term `cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment' means cruel, unusual, and inhumane treatment or punishment prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, as defined in the United States Reservations, Declarations and Understandings to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment done at New York, December 10, 1984.

(3) COMPLIANCE- The President shall take action to ensure compliance with this subsection, including through the establishment of administrative rules and procedures.

Section 948r says of the use of evidence:

`(d) Statements Obtained After Enactment of Detainee Treatment Act of 2005- A statement obtained on or after December 30, 2005 (the date of the enactment of the Defense Treatment Act of 2005) in which the degree of coercion is disputed may be admitted only if the military judge finds that--

`(1) the totality of the circumstances renders the statement reliable and possessing sufficient probative value;

`(2) the interests of justice would best be served by admission of the statement into evidence; and

`(3) the interrogation methods used to obtain the statement do not amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment prohibited by section 1003 of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005.
[This is the law passed by McCain and co. that caused the CIA to stop using using their "enhanced interrogation techniques" despite the White House claim that the methods were legal.]

I can't see any way around it: what was in question before December, 2005, is now very definitely illegal. Can waterboarding be used on detainees in the war on terror? Only if it's constitutional to use on an armed robbery or breaking and entering suspect in the local precinct. Ditto for cold cells and prolonged sleep deprivation.

As far as I can tell, the deal worked like this: the administration gave in on torture but in return, the administration got its viewpoint on habeas corpus and what exact rights unlawful combatants have written into law, and it got its military tribunals. The deal also went to great lengths to prevent detainees not under US jurisdiction from turning the Geneva Conventions into a basis for suing the US government (a right by the way POWs, let alone unlawful combatants, have never had), and to preserve the principle that we in the US will say what we mean by torture, and will not allow international decisions to define it for us. To me this is more part of the on-going debate about whether the US is bound by "evolving norms of international behavior" (i.e. consensus of NGOs, UN officials, EU lawyers, and law school graduates) than about torture. Again an important debate, but one in which in general I'm on the other side.

So, as I see it, with the witting or unwitting cooperation of the administration (looking like you're sticking it to the wimps who won't "do what's necessary" can win votes, even if it's not true), the human rights/civil liberties organizations were able to pull a bit and switch: get people all riled up by torture and then switch that outrage to habeas corpus and US legal go-it-alone-ism. Indeed, the administration's position made it very easy, almost irresistable, to do so. And one can certainly adopt the line that the administration should be condemned for even trying to regularize torture-lite for "high-value" unlawful combatants. My already very low opinion of Dick Cheney is certainly lower as a result of his attempt to legalize "moderate" torture. But the reality is, in the end, the attempt failed. And very few of the public opponents of torture-lite are noting this fact.

I thought I must be the only one thinking this, until I read this opinion piece by the Washington office head for George Soros's Open Society Institute. As he points out, the administration is claiming victory on detainee treatment, but the cold language of the text means CIA interrogators are risking serious punishment if they continue to use waterboarding, cold cells, prolonged sleep deprivation and the like:

On rare occasions, President Bush and his toughest critics agree on something. That will happen today when Bush signs the Military Commissions Act, while claiming "clear" authorization from Congress for "enhanced" CIA interrogations. Many critics claim the bill authorizes torture. Fortunately, both sides are wrong.

You have to register to read the whole piece, but I think people should read it, so I'll risk copyright infringement by pasting the bulk of it in here:

The bill's language on torture is far from perfect, and it has many other objectionable provisions. It should have been rejected. [That's the habeas corpus, legal go-it-alone-ism, etc., issues] But on its face it criminalizes cruel treatment [emphasis added -- score one for the ability of an ordinary person to understand legal language]. An interrogator can go to prison if a court finds that the techniques used caused "serious" mental or physical "suffering," which need not be "prolonged." According to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the administration agrees that this rules out waterboarding.

As for hypothermia, prolonged sleep deprivation and stress positions, does the CIA really want to put that question to a jury? Legions of highly qualified experts would line up to testify that these techniques cause severe, prolonged suffering. The CIA knows this. It funded some of the seminal studies on the subject.

As for Congress, administration supporters made general claims about the importance of continuing "the program" and its legality. But Graham said specifically that the bill "reined in the [CIA] program." McCain said it can be interpreted to mean that "extreme deprivation -- sleep deprivation, hypothermia and others -- would be not allowed." Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) said that such abusive techniques are "clearly prohibited by the bill."

"Reined in," "not allowed," "clearly prohibited" -- that's from the bill's Republican sponsors in the Senate. The House was no more supportive. The chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), said it is "absolutely false" to claim that the bill authorizes the "enhanced" techniques. Another senior House Republican, Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut, said that "any reasonable person" would conclude that the CIA's techniques "clearly cause 'serious mental and physical suffering.' " That's congressional approval?

Another inconvenient fact for the White House: The bill emphatically reaffirmed the McCain amendment -- the law that led the CIA to demand clear authorization in the first place.
The Bush administration has been pushing the idea that the McCain amendment is infinitely elastic, banning only what "shocks the conscience" -- that no technique is prohibited if interrogators need the information badly enough. Under this preposterous theory, Japanese Americans could have been tortured after Pearl Harbor if authorities thought it would reveal an imminent attack on the West Coast. It's really "in the eye of the beholder," said Cheney.
But if a CIA interrogator is indicted after this administration leaves office, it will not matter whether keeping a naked prisoner standing for 40 straight hours shocks Dick Cheney. It will matter whether it shocks the court.

U.S. courts know cruelty when they see it, even if the Bush Justice Department doesn't. The Supreme Court agreed decades ago that sleep deprivation "is the most effective torture" and said that "the blood of the accused is not the only hallmark of an unconstitutional inquisition . . . the efficiency of the rack and the thumbscrew can be matched . . . by more sophisticated modes of 'persuasion.' "

Much will depend on implementation. But to say, "America," through her elected representatives, or the "Republican Party" has approved torture is just plain wrong. It is grotesque that the White House insists on pretending that it has received approval to do something that is indeed intrinsically immoral, when in fact it hasn't. It's also sad that it's saying so not just to preserve face, but probably also because it perceives a significant "pro-torture" vote out there. But at the end of the day, the reality is that the US Congress has done its best (given the other important legal values that have to be considered) to ensure that even the CIA does not use cruel, inhuman, or degrading interrogation techniques.



Monday, October 16, 2006

Munichs and MacArthur Occupations

In any discussion of war and peace, two fables will inevitably be brought up: Munich and the MacArthur occupation.

Munich was the time when in the face of clear and present danger and evil, the leaders of the free world refused to resist aggression, caved into to specious (in the original sense: fair-seeming) arguments, made concessions to the bad guys that seemed reasonable, and thus invited a disastrous world war and coddled a dictatorship that led to the deaths of millions both on and off the battlefield. The lesson is: non-resistance to dictatorships, even when the dictatorship brandish demands that seem fair on the face of it, is irresponsible and makes one complicit in that dictatorship's evil acts.

The MacArthur occupation is a time when, as the result of an overwhelming US (and allied) force, the bad guys were converted by the application of tough but fair US administration and abundant US largesse. Former enemies thoroughly and completed abjured their former evil ways and were turned into fast friends. While first stated with reference to Gen. MacArthur in Japan, this same narrative is of course also applicable to the utter discrediting of Nazism and the rebuilding of (West) Germany as a genuinely democratic and humane society.

I said these are fables not because they are entirely false, but because they have been stripped of context and can be applied in a word or sentence and suddenly conjure up the whole picture with its supporting documentation. What these fables have in common is their picture of rapid moral transformation: a government becomes evil at a clear point in time (say in 1933) and then should be opposed with all means at our disposal, until it is abjectly defeated (say in 1945) and will then become good.

Paradoxically, the two are connected, however. Only after a "Munich," I would argue, can you have a "MacArthur occupation." Remember, had France and Britain attacked Germany, rather than consent to the partition of Czechoslovakia according to ethnic zones (which was the issue in Munich), they would not have "stopped the Holocaust" -- because the Holocaust in the strict sense did not begin until the Wannsee Conference in 1941. Nor would they have "stopped Hitler's insane plans of world conquest," because up until the German march into Prague a year or so after Munich, Hitler's foreign policy was simply one of reuniting with the motherland ethnic German districts that clearly and indisputably wished to be so united.

Joachim Fest in his brilliant biography, Hitler, posed the counter-factual question: what if Hitler had been assassinated some time after Munich, but before the invasion of Poland? What would his place in history have been? Fest shows us the disturbing possibility: that he would go down in history, at home and abroad, as one of the greatest Germans ever, with only an occasional muckracker reminding an irritated nation of the incipient brutality and Jew-baiting. Make no mistake, he cautions: had Hitler stayed alive, he would certainly have aimed for the world conquest and monstrous crimes he is known for today. But this is clear only in hindsight. In bulk, people don't take it literally when would-be politicians write about revenge, world conquest, and crushing this or that hated minority -- some people will only believe it when they see it. And why? Because history really does offer too many examples of fire-breathers who go moderate in power. (That's another fable too.)

Despite the example of Munich, the Roosevelt administration did not operate on the "Munich fable" set of assumptions in dealing with Japan. Instead they believed that given the situation of domestic political opinion in the US, militarist Japan (which they knew/believed to be the same kind of inevitable danger that Hitler was), had to be maneuvered into attacking the US first. Countries like China would just have sit tight and endure Rapes of Nanjing and poison gas attacks until the Japanese felt so boxed in by Anglo-American embargoes that they finally lashed out and attacked the US. This is, by the way, the origin of the far-right critique of Roosevelt: that his pressure forced Japan to attack us (a bad thing), not the Soviet Union (a good thing), and that he knew all about Pearl Harbor, but didn't do anything about it because he wanted a war with Japan. Well, of course, Roosevelt knew about the surprise attack in advance; everybody knew Japan was cooking up some kind of surprise attack on the US navy at -- Subic Bay in the Philippines.

But again, as a result of the endless stream of Munichs from 1931 to 1941, we ended up with the MacArthur occupation in 1945. Could anyone by 1945 deny the Japanese had been interested in vast conquests and brutal rule over fellow Asians? Was America just trying to defend imperialist privileges in Southeast Asia? Letting Germany and Japan run rampant for a few years was an integral part of their complete discrediting by 1945.

Another part was the undeniably full military mobilization and success of the German and Japanese nations in that period. The average German clerk could not deny that his nation's military was not being held back by any pusillanimous fear of international opinion. The average Japanese worker could not deny that his whole country was working day and night for victory. And both Germans and Japanese had the European and East Asian traditions of statehood behind them when they knew, as they dug out of the rubble in 1945, that if a state with one ideology failed, a state with some other ideology had to take its place, because the people cannot exist without a state. But had they not been assured that the old state had indeed done its best to win victory, and been given a free hand, such that conquered China or Poland was a pretty fair representation of what their side in the war was fighting for, they might well have decided that Fascist-style nationalism had not been given a fair chance, and tried for another go.

Your assignment: discuss with reference to US policy 1991-2006.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Conservatives and Liberals in an Alternate Universe

On the one hand you have real macho guys squiring girls who know how to dress -- while on the other you have unisexers who wish quite hard to be "above all that."

On the one hand you have people for whom have getting married, having kids, and handing on to them a pile of money is practically their job -- while on the other hand you have people for whom having a partner and children seem, even at best, not quite related to the way they see the world. (And let's not mention the ones who are aren't interested in, ah, procreative sex at all.)

On the one hand you have guys who always think their town and country is right, especially when it starts to fight -- while on the other you have people dedicated to larger, universal values embodied in international laws and organizations they see as the only hope for an end of war.

On the one hand, you have guys and girls who don't read a whole lot , but when they do read, want it red-blooded and wholesome -- while on the other you have people who make their living from spinning ever more complex and bizarre theories.

On the one hand you have people whose clothes say power and money -- while on the other hand you have people with pale indoor faces who dress in gloomy black.

On the one hand you have people who don't waste much time on guilt over being fortune's favorites -- and on the other hand you have people who talk constantly about the poor inheriting the earth (whether it's more than talk is debatable, however).

Conservative and liberals today? No! the nobility and the clergy in the Middle Ages. Read it over -- it all fits. Let's leave aside for the moment the details of the programs and ideologies. If you do, the clash of temperments represented by the modern conservative-liberal conflict seems to be another version of the rivalry of the knights and the clerks.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Two Views of Our Christian Legacy

The view from Rivendell:

. . . Frodo began to listen.

At first the beauty of the melodies and of the interwoven words in elven-tongues, even though he understood them little, held him in a spell, as soon as he began to attend to them. Almost it seemed that the words took shape, and visions of fair lands and bright things that he had never yet imagined opened out before him; and the firelit hall became like a golden mist above seas of foam that sighed upon the margins of the world. Then the enchantment became more and more dreamlike, until he felt that an endless river of swelling gold and silver was flowing over him, too multitudinous for its pattern to be comprehended; it became part of the throbbing air about about him, and it drenched and drowned him. Swiftly he sank under its shining weight into a deep realm of sleep.

There he wandered long in a dream of music that turned into running water, and then suddenly into a voice. It seemed to be the voice of Bilbo chanting verses. Faint at first and then clearer ran the words . . . (Fellowship of the Ring, p. 246).

The view from Gondor:

'That is a fair lord and a great captain of men,' said Legolas. 'If Gondor has such men still in these days of fading, great must have been its glory in the days of its rising.'

'And doubtless the good stone-work is the older and was wrought in the first building,' said Gimli. 'It is ever so with the things that Men begin: there is a frost in Spring, or a blight in Summer, and they fail of their promise.'

'Yet seldom do they fail of their seed,' said Legolas. 'And that will lie in the dust and rot to spring up again in times and places unlooked-for. The deeds of men will outlast us, Gimli.'

'And yet come to naught in the end but might-have-beens, I guess,' said the Dwarf.

'To that the Elves know not the answer,' said Legolas. (Return of the King, p. 149).

Monday, October 09, 2006

Tofu Tigers

The world is panicking over North Korea and Iran getting nuclear weapons. My own view?

All reactionaries are paper tigers. In appearance, the reactionaries are terrifying, but in reality, they are not so powerful. From a long-term point of view, it is not the reactionaries but the people who are powerful. -- Mao Zedong, 1958.

The reactionaries here are the mullahs in Iran and the Kim regime in North Korea, and the rest of their absurd pom-pom squad, like the clown Chavez in Venezuela. Right now people are terrified of them, running around like chickens without a head, screaming "Mullahs with nukes!" "Norks with nukes!" But some day we will look back on this whole bizarre crew and say:

Look! Were these not living tigers, iron tigers, real tigers? Nevertheless, in the end they changed into paper tigers, dead tigers, and tofu tigers. These are historical facts.

"Tofu tigers" -- you can't deny Mao had a way with words!

The reality is nuclear weapons don't do anything -- except against people who allow themselves to be terrified of them. The reason Iran and North Korea want nuclear weapons is to terrify us into paying tribute -- unfortunately it seems to be working. Another possible reason would be to provoke us into wars or air attacks with no purpose and which we can't possibly win -- I don't think that's working, but I wish I could say that more confidently.

I analyzed the prospect of nuclear terrorism here and I haven't seen any reason since to change my viewpoint. The future can't be guaranteed, but the case that an organization like Hizbullah could be relied on to deliver through its network scores of nukes with the steely-eyed and unemotional precision required looks even more ridiculous in the wake of the war it accidentally provoked against Israel.

Nukes won't save the Iranian regime, and they won't save the North Koreans either. Is there anyone who actually believes that fifty years from now either will have the same regime they now have? And anyone who actually believes we won't? Mao Zedong (accidentally) analyzed the problem with Iran and North Korea long ago:

I have said that all the reputedly powerful reactionaries are merely paper tigers. The reason is that they are divorced from the people.

And they are reactionaries and divorced from the people, because everything they do is based on a false estimate of reality. Imposing Sharia makes makes everyone happy -- wrong! Counterfeiting foreign currencies and money-laundering are a solid basis for financial stability -- wrong again! Getting Venezuela's Chavez on your side is the heavy-weight riposte to the other side's strengthening alliances with Japan, and India, and Israel, and Australia, and . . . -- wrong yet again! Oil prices will always go up -- you're wrong another time! People don't give a hoot about things like inflation and unemployment and living standards, just about cool one-liners that humiliate George Bush -- you're on a roll now, 'cause you're wrong one more time! The Mahdi's going to come and rescue you from the cleft stick you've made for yourself -- want to guess if you're wrong again?!

They really are backward, they really are a decaying ruling class, they really are regimes that have no future, no link to the real movements of history.

Everyone says Ahmadinejad and Kim are "nuts" -- well, I say, if they're so nuts, how come they're playing the U.S. policy elite like a fiddle? If they're so nuts, how come their plans for make their neighbors pay tribute in order to avoid scary nukes is working so brilliantly?

But wait, what am I saying? -- are these guys stupid or smart? Again Mao said it best (it takes one to know one, I suppose):

Hence, imperialism and all reactionaries, looked at in essence, from a long-term point of view, from a strategic point of view, must be seen for what they are - paper tigers. On this, we should build our strategic thinking. On the other hand, they are also living tigers, iron tigers, real tigers that can devour people. On this, we should build our tactical thinking.

Now, when he says "living tigers" -- you might think he was talking about a frontal attack on the Americans. Not at all. Mao was "nuts" (he said things far battier than Ahmadinejad ever did)* but like most leaders we call "nuts" he had a very good sense of how far was too far. Like the old Soviet Union, they will look brilliant to the diplomats and generals, right up to the point where they collapse.

The right strategy: refuse to allow these gargoyles to terrify us, and refuse to allow them to provoke us into meaningless and pathetic wars over hardware, when we've got real wars over peoples and populations in train.

*How about this choice tidbit, a propos nuclear war: "Even if one-half of the population in the world died, another half would survive. Moreover, imperialism would be destroyed and the entire world would be socialized. After some years, there would be 2.7 billion people again." -- Mao Zedong Waijiao Wenxuan (Selected Works of Mao Zedong on Foreign Affairs) (Beijing: World Knowledge Press, 1994), pp. 294 (HT:e here).

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Florilegium on Luther's Theodicy

Way back when ( a couple of months ago, at least), I wrote a bit about Luther's feeling bad, and similar parallels to this feeling bad in other Christian and intertestamental writers. I put a polemic spin on it, and a few Catholic bloggers (here and here) responded by saying that I had obviously mistook the nature of Luther's feeling bad. Luther's feeling bad, they insisted was the purely personal issue of assurance -- I feel bad because I worry that God is going to damn me, personally. (Implication: Luther was unbalanced and spiritually rather self-centered.) What I had tried to say (here) is that Luther's problem of assurance ("How Do I Get a Gracious God?") and its famous solution ("justification by faith alone") is actually less fundamental than his problem of theodicy ("How Can a God Be Just Who Damns Those Who Cannot Help Sinning?") and its not so famous solution (that the man Jesus Christ loves and died for all Adam's race).

In fact the points I was trying to make are not very different from those made by David S. Yeago, in an article in First Things on "The Catholic Luther." In this article, Yeago explained that Luther's early issue was not "How Do I Get a Gracious God" but rather "How Do I Get the Real God?" His answer, early on, was by adopting Augustinianism: the double-predestinating God of Augustinianism is so scary it must be real:

How can we tell that we are really clinging to God and not to an idol of our own? Luther answers that the gracious presence of the true God is so excruciatingly painful and distastefully unpalatable to our nature that we can have no imaginable self-interested motivation for enduring it. . . . The problem is that we do not want to come into God's presence for God's sake, but for the sake of all the good things He can do for us: we want to use God. And Luther answers: If it is really God, then He will crucify and torture you as He did Christ, your pattern, and thus leave you no reason to cling to Him except for His own sweet sake.

Yeago then goes on to say that this point of view was quite comforting and satisfactory for Luther:

It has sometimes been assumed that this theology, and the piety of humble submission to spiritual suffering that accompanies it, must have been so tormenting that it only added fuel to Luther's spiritual agony and his quest for a gracious God. But there is little warrant for this in the texts. On the contrary, Luther seems to have found it comforting. Even though it forbids the undialectical confidence in God's mercy that Luther later came to teach, it nonetheless allows the sinner yearning for God under the cross a sort of paradoxical assurance, a sense of being at least in the appropriate place before God, which sustains the heart and enables it to endure to the end.

Well, I disagree. First of all, we have Luther's explicit testimony that this comfort came after Augustinianism pushed him into the "deepest pit of despair" (see selection 3 below) -- this passage in fact is closely paralleled by a similar one in his Commentary on Romans, chapter 9. (I may dig that up and post it some time soon -- I'm away from my usual library.) Secondly, one should ask oneself, if this solution was so satisfying, why did Luther eventually come to preach a different one? That solution in which he came to in the end is the rejection of all speculation about God in Himself, and about whether He can be seen or treated as just by the philosopher or theologian who does not start from His incarnation.

Yeago gives us no real reason to assume that the Augustinian -- indeed Edwardsian -- Luther is more worthy of consideration than the later Luther. I rather doubt that Yeago is really advocating Edwards-style preaching of divine sovereignty apart from the incarnation. Rather the whole point of the article seems to be to knock down what he calls the "the standard Protestant reading" of Luther and make sure no other usable reading is in its place. My point here is to start where Yeago left off and watch Luther as he revisits and reframes the question of Augustinian theodicy, to retain God's sovereignty, but to always place before our eyes His humanity. (Is this the solution Yeago is calling "undialectical"?) Of course, this was the solution in part because he could not reject the Biblical testimony that universalism and free will were not the solutions.

Here I present a florilegium of nine passages from his Bondage of the Will which present the problem of theodicy -- what I contend is the real, albeit covert, theme of the whole book. Free will is taught, he contends, in the end because no other teaching seems to man's intellect to acquit God of the charge of being unjust. But to make free will the reason why some are saved and some aren't, he argues, makes God no longer God. So what theodicy does he present? That of leaving God God, but insisting that He is also the Son of Man.

1) So it is 'absurd' [says Erasmus] to condemn one who cannot avoid deserving damnation. And because of this 'absurdity' it must be false that God has mercy on whom He will have mercy, and hardens whom He will. He must be brought to order! Rules must be laid down for Him, and He is not to damn any but those who have deserved it by our reckoning! . . . Suppose we imagine that God ought to be a God who regards merit in those that are to be damned. Must we not equally maintain and allow that He should also regard merit in those that are to be saved? If we want to follow Reason, it is as unjust to reward the undeserving as to punish the undeserving. (p. 233)

2) You may be worried that it is hard to defend the mercy and equity of God in damning the undeserving, that is, ungodly persons, who, being born in ungodliness, can by no means avoid being ungodly, and staying so, and being damned, but are compelled by natural necessity to sin and perish; as Paul says: 'We were all children of wrath, even as others,' created such by God Himself from a seed that had been corrupted by the sin of the one man, Adam. But here God must be reverenced and held in awe, as being most merciful to those whom He justifies and saves in their own utter unworthiness; and we must show some measure of deference to His Divine wisdom by believing Him just when He seems unjust. If His justice were such as could be adjudged just by human reckoning, it clearly would not be Divine; it would in no way differ from human justice. But inasmuch as He is the one true God, wholly incomprehensible and inaccessible to man's understanding, it is reasonable, indeed inevitable, that His justice should be incomprehensible; as Paul cries, saying: 'O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!. They would not, however, be 'unsearchable' if we could at every point grasp the grounds on which they are just. What is man compared with God? . . . If, now, even nature teaches us to acknowledge that human power, strength, wisdom, knowledge, and substance, and all that is ours, is as nothing compared with the Divine power, strength, wisdom, knowledge, and substance, what perversity is it on our part to worry at the justice and the judgment of the only God, and to arrogate so much to our own judgment as to presume to comprehend, judge, and evaluate God's judgment (pp. 314-15).

3) Doubtless it gives the greatest possible offense to common sense or natural reason, that God, Who is proclaimed as being full of mercy and goodness, and so on, should of His own mere will abandon, harden, and damn men, as though he delighted in the sins and great eternal torments of such wretches. It seems an iniquitous, cruel, intolerable thought to think of God; and it is this that has been a stumbling block to so many great men down the ages. And who would not stumble at it? I have stumbled at it myself more than once, down to the deepest pit of despair, so that I wish I had never been made a man. (That was before I knew how health-giving that despair was and how close to grace.) This is why so much toil and trouble has been devoted to clearing the goodness of God, and throwing the blame on man's will. It is at this point that distinctions have been invented between God's will of appointment and absolute will, between necessity of consequence and of things consequent, and many more such. But nothing has been achieved by means of them beyond imposing upon the unlearned by empty verbiage . . . None the less, the arrow of conviction has remained, fastened deep in the hearts of the learned and unlearned alike, whenever they have made a serious approach to the matter, so that they are aware that, if the foreknowledge and omnipotence of God are admitted, then we must be under necessity (pp. 217-18).

4) God conceals His eternal mercy and loving kindness beneath eternal wrath, his righteousness beneath unrighteousness. Now the highest degree of faith is to believe that He is merciful, though He saves so few and damns so many; to believe that He is just, though of His own will He makes us perforce proper subjects for damnation and seems (in Erasmus's words) 'to delight in the torments of poor wretches and to be a fitter object for hate than for love.' If I could by any means understand how this same God, who makes such a show of wrath and unrighteousness, can yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith (p. 101).

5) When, now [Erasmus's] Diatribe reasons thus: 'Does the righteous Lord deplore the death of His people which He Himself works in them? This seems too ridiculous' -- I reply, as I have already said: we must discuss God, or the will of God, preached, revealed, offered to us, and worshipped by us, in one way, and God not preached, nor revealed, nor offered to us, nor worshipped by us, in another way. Wherever God hides Himself, and wills to be unknown to us, there we have no concern. Here that sentiment: 'What is above us does not concern us,' really holds good . . . . Now God, in His own nature and majesty is to be left alone; in this regard, we have nothing to do with Him, nor does He wish us to deal with Him. We have to do with Him as clothed and displayed in His Word, by which He presents Himself to us. That is His glory and beauty, in which the Psalmist procalaims Him to be clothed (cf. Ps. 21:5). I say that the righteous God does not deplore the death of His people which He Himself works in them, but He deplores the death which He finds in His people and desire to remove from them. God preached works to the end that sin and death may be taken away, and we may be saved. 'He sent His word and healed them' (Ps. 107:20). But God hidden in Majesty neither deplores nor takes away death, but works life, and death, and all in all; nor has He set bounds to Himself by His Word, but has kept Himself free over all things (pp. 169-70).

6) I say, as I said before, that we may not debate the secret will of the Divine Majesty, and that the recklessness of man, who shows unabated perversity in leaving necessary matters for an attempted assault on that will, should be withheld and restrained from employing itself in searching out those secrets of Divine Majesty; for man cannot attain unto them, seeing that, as Paul tells us (cf. 1 Tim. 6:16), they dwell in inaccessible light. But let man occupy himself with God Incarnate, that is, with Jesus crucified, in whom, as Paul says (cf. Col. 2:3), are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (though hidden); for by Him man has abundant instruction both in what he should and what he should not know.

7) Here, God Incarnate says [to unrepentant Jerusalem]: 'I would, and the thou wouldst not.' God Incarnate, I repeat, was sent for this purpose, to will, say, do, suffer, and offer to all men, all that is necessary for salvation; albeit He offends many who, being abandoned or hardened by God's secret will of Majesty, do not receive Him thus willing, speaking, doing, and offering. As John says: 'The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not' (John 1:5). And again: 'He came unto His own, and His own received Him not' (v. 11). It belongs to the same God Incarnate to weep, lament, and groan over the perdition of the ungodly, though that will of Majesty purposely leaves and reprobates some to perish. Nor is it for us to ask why He does so, but to stand in awe of God, Who can do, and wills to do such thing. . . . Thus all that has been offered to men through the ministry of the Word from the beginning of the world may rightly be called the will of Christ.

8) But here Reason, in her knowing and talkative way, will say: 'This is a nice way out that you have invented -- that, whenever we are hard pressed by force of arguments [that seem to impute injustice to God], we run back to that dreadful will of Majesty, and reduce our adversary to silence when he becomes troublesome . . . I reply: This is not my invention, but a command grounded on the Divine Scriptures. In Rom. 11, Paul says, "Why then does God find fault? Who shall resist His will? O man, who are thou that contendest with God? Hath not the potter power?' and so on (Rom. 9:19, 21). . . . I think these words make it clear enough that it is not lawful for men to search into the will of Majesty (pp. 175-77)

9) I will give a parallel case, in order to strengthen our faith in God's justice, and to reassure that 'evil eye' which hold Him under suspicion of injustice. Behold! God governs the external affairs of the world in such a way that, if you regard and follow the judgment of human reason, you are forced to say, either that there is no God, or that God is unjust; as the poet said: 'I am often tempted to think there are no gods.' See the great prosperity of the wicked, and by contrast the great advesity of the good. Proverbs, and experience, the parent of proverbs, bear record that the more abandoned men are, the more successful they are. . . . Is it not, pray, universally held to most unjust that bad men should prosper, and good men be afflicted? Yet that is the way of the world. Hereupon some of the greatest minds have fallen into denying the existence of God, and imagining that Chance governs all things at random. [He cites Epicurus, Pliny, and Aristotle in different ways]. And the Prophets, who believed in God's existence, were still more tempted concerning the injustice of God. . . . Yet all this, which looks so much like injustice in God, and is traduced as such by arguments which no reason or light of nature can resist, is most easily cleared up by the light of the gospel and the knowledge of grace which teaches us that . . .: There is a life after this life; and all that is not punished and repaid here will be punished and repaid there; for this life is nothing more than a precursor, or, rather, a beginning, of the life that is to come.

If, now, this problem, which was debated in every age but never solved, is swept away and settled so easily by the light of the gospel, shines only in the Word and to faith, how do you think it will be when the light of the Word and faith shall cease, and the real facts and the Majesty of God, shall be revealed as they are? (pp. 315-16).
Thanks for the memories, Josh. Sure, we'll meet in the flesh, but I hope it's before the restoration of all things.