Friday, June 29, 2007

The Main Reason the Immigration Bill Went Down to Defeat

The main reason is that the facts presented here were never brought to the attention of the American people (HT: Jonah on the Corner).

According to the World Bank's 2007 Annual Development Indicators, in 1990 Mexico had a fertility rate of 3.3 children per female, but by 2005, that number had fallen by 36 percent to 2.1, which is the Zero Population Growth rate. That is an enormous decline in the number of Mexican infants per female. The large number of women currently in their reproductive years means that there are still quite a few babies, but as this group ages, the number of infants will decline sharply. If this trend toward fewer children per female continues, there being no apparent reason for it to cease, the number of young people in the Mexican population will decline significantly just when the number of elderly is rising. As labor markets in Mexico tighten and wage rates rise, far fewer Mexican youngsters will be interested in coming to the United States. Since our baby boomers will be retiring at the same time, we could face a severe labor shortage.

It's not just Mexico -- birth rates have been dropping rapidly all over Latin America. "This means less pressure on the United States from illegal immigrants from the entire area, not just from Mexico" explains Robert Dunn, Jr.

Indeed the drop is world wide: "Fertility rates are declining across the globe, but the change is particular striking to our south. The world fertility rate fell from 3.1 to 2.6 over the 1990-2005 period. The population bomb is becoming a fire cracker."

I've commented on the similarly astoundingly rapid drop in Mongolia's birth rate (4.5 to 2.2 in ten years) before (curiously no one answered the question in that post).

I have often retailed the statistic that the average Mexican woman has 2.7 children -- which has never failed to astound people I know. What will I say now that it is 2.1 (compared to 2.0 in the US)? I guess it will lose its shock value because no will believe me any more!

One of the most peculiar facts is that it now seems that Mexican-Americans have a higher birth rate than Mexicans in Mexico! A study says (pdf alert) that "the findings demonstrate dramatic decreases in the fertility rates in Mexico at the same time that continuous increases have been documented in the fertility rates of native-born Mexican-Americans in the US at younger ages."

The Corner's resident secular skeptic, Andrew Stuttaford, points out that this world wide crash in birthrates punches holes in the usual explanations for Europe's low birth rates (including social democracy?) Of course you could always say the Third World is simply imitating the first -- the more I see these crazy changes, the more I begin to believe that birth rates are more and more about fashion and image. Is the big family presented as attractive in glossy magazines? Or is the small family presented as modern and with it?

Anyway, it is funny that these figures were never presented in the debate on immigration. Because it is my anecdotal experience that judging from how astounded people worried about immigration are that Mexico does not have a high birth rate any more, I'd say that 75-80% of the opposition to immigration is driven by anxiety over the perceived birth rates of Latinas. Had President Bush or Senators Reid or McCain simply gone on prime time TV and stated that Mexico's birth rate is now 2.1, then most people would have said, "Oh, well I guess it turns out there isn't any crisis," forgot the issue, and let the elites make the laws they want.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

An Outsider's Thoughts on the Federal Vision Thing

In case you haven't heard, the Reformed churches are being roiled by a new "Federal Vision." The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America has recently approved a statement that this Federal Vision theology is incompatible with the Westminster Standards, which would be something like the LCMS's Synodical Convention deciding that some new way of doing Biblical theology popular in segments of the LCMS pastorate was contrary to the Book of Concord.

In general, I don't see much point to people commenting on decisions by other denominations. It is for those who believe in the Westminster Standards to say what is or is not compatible with them. But in this case I think there are some general points worth making in this for Augsburg Evangelicals about the ways in which theology is and isn't done.

My source for the Federal Vision is going to be Peter Leithart's brief apologia here. The whole debate is big on acronyms so I'm going to call it FV-PLS (Federal Vision -- Peter Leithart style).

The most notable aspect about his apologia is the "twinning" of certain concepts, particularly election and union with Christ. For example election:

2. . . . "Election" can refer to the general election that applies to all who are members of the chosen new Israel or to the special, eternal election of the eschatological Israel.

7. Union with Christ and benefits: I do believe that some are united to Christ yet do not persevere (John 15). During the time they are branches in the vine, they do receive benefits from Christ through the Spirit and may enjoy real, personal, and deep communion with Jesus for a time. Yet, their relationship with Christ is not identical to the relationship of the elect. Put it this way: Some are united to Christ as members of the bride but are headed for divorce; others are united and headed for consummation. Marriages that end in divorce are not the same as marriages that end happily.

In other words, God elects some to be in Israel and the Church (and hence some temporary union with Christ), and elects a subset of them to remain in the church (and hence in a full and permanent union with Christ).

Now, this to a non-Reformed this sounds very strange, particularly the idea that "union with Christ" can be used for "benefits" short of salvation.

But I think it is very clear and instructive about how he gets to this position. First of all, he starts out from the Calvinist TULIP position (on that, see here). The essence of this position is that in all of God's dealings with man, He distinguishes the elect from the reprobate. Two sinners attend an evangelistic service, and hear a preacher's call to repent and believe. In one, an elect person, the Spirit is truly active, and gives alongside the preacher's call an irresistible "effectual call" -- the person accordingly believes, perseveres in the faith to death, and is saved. In another, the Spirit withholds His grace, the preacher's call is thus not "effectual," the person may or may not seem to believe but in any case does not persevere in the faith and eventually is not saved.

Now in this TULIP position, the dynamic above works with sacramental actions as well. What looks like identical baptisms of two infants has to be seen as actually two different baptisms in essence -- one an effectual call and one a mere outward call: not effectual and never intended by God to save.

As a result a Reformed Christian who has come to believe that TULIP is Biblically correct is forced to see baptism as at best ultimately ambiguous -- saving for the elect, but not for the unelect. This is so because of the unavoidable empirical fact which all paedobaptists (Catholic, Evangelical, Reformed) accept, that many who are baptized die without faith and are not saved.

Now, imagine you are a TULIP Presbyterianism, and you want baptism to actually do something to the baptized baby. You want baptism to really be a "washing of regeneration" as Paul writes to Titus. And you want the visible communion of Holy Communion today to be in some integral sense part of the future communion of the wedding supper of the Lamb. Now you want these things because the Bible obviously says them. They are expressed in both major themes and concrete proof-texts. Peter Leithart mentions for example 1 Cor. 6:11, Gal. 3:28-29.
Unlike an Augsburg Evangelical or Roman Catholic, however, you don't have the category of genuine apostasy. (More on this here.) You can't say: this baptism was indeed a true baptism of the Holy Spirit, but unfortunately as an adult she rejected God's grace and became an atheist. Or that when he was with us he was truly enjoying today communion with Christ in Holy Communion, but then he began living in adultery and his conscience was seared. As a Reformed, you can only say, they seemed to be Christians but really weren't.

Now there are two different ways to handle this dilemma. One is to rethink TULIP. Now the problem is, is that the Bible contains many statements which seem to give TULIP considerable force. It is not hard to assemble Biblical texts that seem to confirm the major planks of TULIP, at least when a certain amount of theological deduction is allowed.

But the problem is with other passages that just as clear seem to repudiate TULIP, and in particular envision the possibility of real apostasy. Leithart mentions 2 Pet 2:20, 1 Cor. 10:1-4, and John 15 (especially 15:6), but many more exist and have been thrown in the face of Calvinists by many generations of Arminians.

So the other response is that of Peter Leithart in his version of Federal Vision: to "twin" the major terms of election and union with Christ. All baptisms and all inclusion in the life of the church give you the weaker, temporary, collective version of this, but only real, Holy Spirit-endowed baptisms and church membership give you the true, permanent TULIP-style election and union with Christ.

As a type of solution, this is remarkably similar to the Dispensationalist solution of the problems of eschatology. Confronted by Old and New Testament passages that talked about the coming tribulation and coming Messiah and coming eschatology in seemingly contradictory ways, John Nelson Darby decided that there are actually two comings of Christ, two tribulations (before and after the millennium), two communities, Israel and the Church, and two types of eschatological fulfillment -- the 1000 year reign of Israel and the endless age to come.

The "federal vision" theology and dispensationalism are both ingenious. But both suffer one fundamental problem: they treat as two terms what in the Bible is only one. Is there any Biblical support for the idea that there are two sorts of Unions with Christ? Or that there are two sorts of baptisms? No more than there is any support for the idea of two (or three) "second comings". There is only one union with Christ and one baptism and one membership in the congregation of God -- and falling away therefrom.

A few conclusions that I draw from this analysis:

1) Despite all the talk about post-modern community, etc., etc., what seems to be driving the Federal Vision movement is the need to solve the puzzling passages of the Bible, the same puzzles that led to Calvinism vs. Arminianism, pedobaptists vs. credobaptists, etc. Bible puzzles are the key, not world views. (I've said this before here and here.) Now it is also important that all of these themes Peter Leithart is trying to juggle are truly vital and important themes, both in the Bible and in our lives. Making a chart-worthy scheme about these things seems rather more important than doing it about the end times, which either way we can only hope to get through by faith. But I take Peter Leithart at his word -- if passages like John 15:6 didn't exist, he wouldn't be a Federal Vision theologian.

2) The Federal Vision idea is indeed an attempt to repudiate the spirit of TULIP without violating the letter. In the end God deals only with elect individuals -- but in the meantime, He (and hence we) can deal with the whole church as semi-elect. It is also an attempt to affirm planks of "catholicism" (i.e. baptismal regeneration, the church and its Supper as the embyonic form of the kingdom, and something like the apostasy affirmed by Augsburg Evangelical, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Christians) without rejecting the "Reformed" TULIP. This is why the Federal Vision is attractive to ecumenical-minded Reformed. At the same time, this is why it is of no interest whatsoever to non-Reformed "catholics". For us, it is an attempt to solve a problem we've never had. And by creating, for example, two levels of "Union with Christ"* it only further alienates Reformed theological language from the common "catholic" usage.

3) Like Calvin's attempt to somehow get the benefits of the Augsburg Evangelical view of the supper while sticking with the Zwinglian communion (on Calvinism as a compromise platform, see here), I doubt very much whether this Federal Vision position is workable in the day to day life of the church. As the Fearsome Pirate tirelessly points out, the Calvinist position on the supper (our soul ascends to Heaven to feed on the glorified Christ there) not only has Biblical basis, but is also pretty impossible to keep in your head at the communion rail. I have a feeling that the FV-PSL with its two levels of Union with Christ will prove not only un-Biblical but also pretty impossible for parents with about to be or already baptized babies to keep in their heads. They are going to either think those babies are not really saved, or else are saved (and elect, and predestined, and beyond any possibility of apostasy).

4) The Fearsome Pirate has commented here on the Augsburg Evangelical solas as above all guides to proclamation and preaching. He has pointed out here too that Augsburg Evangelicalism simply does not admit the idea of legitimate "hypotheses" in theology. Read them both -- I would only add that the two are related and that either would be sufficient to show the whole Federal Vision thing as based on a wrong foundation.

5) A FV, "New Perspective on Paul"-sympathizing Alastair has reacted to the PCA criticism of the Federal Vision by saying, in effect, the PCA has spoken, but the PCA is not the church -- so the church has not yet spoken. (His post here; more general follow ups here, here, and here). This wider view of the church is of course congruent with the ecumenical "reformed catholic" sympathies of the FV advocates. Yet the question is then: if theology is to admit "hypotheses" and "new directions" -- who is there to say when it is wrong? If the PCA is not the church who can decide, but the whole body of Christians is the ones who can decide, then the reality is nobody can tell the FV-PLS-ers that they are in fact wrong -- or right. If theology is to be about hypotheses, and not just proclaiming the Scriptures, then it really needs to have a magisterium.

*UPDATE: or a "Union with Christ" that is somehow short of forgivess of sins, life, and salvation.

UPDATE II: Mark Linville in the comments brought up Hebrews 6 as another passage which seems to describe union with Christ that is short of salvation. Here was my response:

It is interesting that you refer to Hebrews 6. I remember in a Bible study led by a very gifted TR (back when I was a PCA-er), the leader discussed this passage:

For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

For him this was a problem because it seemed to envision genuine apostasy as a possibility. But he argued that

1) being enlightened
2) tasting the heavenly gift
3) sharing in the Holy Spirit
4) tasting the goodness of the word of God
5) tasting the powers of the age to come

did NOT add up to being saved. It was, he believed, as close as you can come to being saved and forgiven, but still not there yet.

I think you are correct, Mark, that this kind of reading of Hebrews 6 is exactly suited to fit the FV view of saving benefits. A TR can hardly object when this interpretation of the passage is then used to show that there are "benefits" short of forgiveness.

But note well: this distinctive interpretation was first created to defend the P of TULIP and seems completely implausible to anyone who has not first signed on to the "benefits short of forgiveness of sins" model entailed by the pro-P interpretation of this passage. To Lutherans, Hebrews 6:4-6 is simply referring to people who were saved and forgiven who then apostasized. (We then have the Bible puzzle of what to do about the apparent inability to be restored.) All those benefits are simply what you get along with, over and above, the forgiveness of sins.

Mark Linville then replied:

You are correct that Hebrews 6 is not a problem unless one hold to perseverance of the saints. I hold to that position because I believe that John 10:28, 29, Ephesians 1:13,14, etc. teach it. However, I recognize that brothers in Christ can disagree on this issue.

I agree with your TR friend who holds that this is something just short of salvation. If the writer of the Book to the Hebrews wanted to refer to the redeemed, he would have just said redeemed.

To which I would reply, the author of Hebrews is making an a fortiori argument: since the remissions of sins is the ground on which the gifts of the Holy Spirit are received, to have the gifts and then reject it is a fortiori more outrageous than to have the remission of sins and then reject it.

But to debate the issue of perseverance of the saints is not my purpose here. I just wanted to note once again how the gradual development of commentary on the Biblical passages opens new possibilities for "twinning" of terms, which then comes to govern interpretation by the resolution of what seem to be contradictions. The cost is, however, that the Bible becomes virtually unintelligible without extensive commentary, because one comes across terms and doesn't know (apart from commentary) what exactly they mean.

UPDATE III: Kevin Johnson seems to find this exact same problem in Steve Wilkins's response to the PCA. "Decretal election" vs. "covenantal election," "effectual union" vs. "non-effectual union" with Christ -- you can find it there, all governed by the need to affirm the perseverance of the saints, alongside Paul's apparent assumption that many who are united with Christ may fall away. For example Steve Wilkins writes:

[Paul] speaks of all who are washed (which I take as a reference to baptism) as being “justified” (I Cor. 6:9-11). If I am correct, Paul is not using this term the same way that the writers of the Confession are, because these same people are later warned against the possibility of falling away and being condemned (I Cor. 10:1-11). Thus, Paul is not referring to something that is only given to the decretally elect here.

To which Kevin Johnson comments:

It remains incredulous to me, for example, that Paul would use the symbol of regeneration to indicate anything other in the main than regeneration. There is no potential note of failure or doubt that real Holy Spirit inspired regeneration didn’t take place here in this passage and the “such were some of you” makes that very clear in my view.


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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

New Research on the Family

I just put on my sidebar (under magazines and their blogs -- well it didn't seem to fit anywhere else) the Howard Center, whose mission is to explain and defend the "natural family." The masthead has "family, religion, and society" which is of course Luther's three hierarchies of church, family, and city.

This site has some great resources (although it does not have a blog -- as yet.) One of more amazing sources of information is the second set of abstracts summarizing new research on the family prepared by Bryce Christensen and Robert W. Patterson. (Here's the first set.)

Let me just note a few of the more fascinating bits of research:

1) What were we talking about a while ago? Social democracy? Oh yes:

"the labor force participation rate among women, and especially among mothers of preschool children, strongly and positively correlated with well-developed welfare states in each of the three components of the index.

Multivariate regressions that controlled for both individual-level and country-level characteristics not only confirmed these correlations, but also found that, all things being equal, women’s odds of employment are almost three times higher, relative to men, in countries at the high end of the welfare scale than in countries at the bottom. The correlations with women’s employment also remained significant in models that controlled for variables whose effects could be mistakenly attributed to the welfare index: GDP, unemployment, the Gini index of income inequality, and attitudes toward gender egalitarianism."

Ironically, however, the researchers (who aren't anti-social democracy at all) found that Scandinavian social democracy, by socializing the family creates pink collar ghettos that actually hinder the employment of women in positions of higher influence (that's the part the researchers don't like).

"large welfare states create and sustain “sheltered labor markets” for women with convenient working terms (day care, maternity leaves, and flexible hours) and where women continue doing what they have historically done: caring for children and families, although now in institutional settings like schools as well as health care and social services, funded by the state."

(BTW, the first round-up summarized research showing that daycare may be more a cause of women joining the labor force than a response to it.)

2) So what does that have to do with religion in Europe? Well take a look at this:

In European countries women working outside the home are less likely to be religious than those not in the paid labor force:

A sociologist and a theologian at Tilberg University in the Netherlands examined data from the European Values Study, a series of surveys conducted in almost all European countries between 1999 and 2000, to explore how characteristics of individuals and countries influence individual religious beliefs and practices. They found, among factors at the individual level, that women in paid employment were significantly less religious (both in terms of belief and practice) than their peers who stayed at home. In fact, the level of religious belief among employed women was more like those of men, who were found to be less religious than women overall. These consistent patterns were found in almost all countries and were statistically significant (p<.001) in multivariate tests.

OK, correlation isn't causation but this is worth thinking about, right?

3) And by the way, isn't the free market in religion in America a great thing that keeps us religious by protecting us from all those dead state churches? Maybe not. The same researchers found:

Looking at the characteristics of countries, the study found that religious pluralism as measured by the Herfindahl Index—meaning the more religions in a country and the more evenly distributed their market shares—as well as the degree to which people trust the churches in their country, were each significantly related to religious belief and to religious practice: The greater the religious diversity of a country, the lower the levels of individual belief and practice; whereas higher levels of public confidence in the church increased each of the two measures.

4) And of course, large numbers of revivalist evangelicals lowers divorce, right? Well, not exactly. Large numbers of "moderate" or "miscellaneous" Protestants, Catholics, and especially Mormons.

Where “moderate” or “miscellaneous” Protestants,* Mormons, or Catholics were more heavily represented relative to other religious categories, that county had significantly fewer divorced persons. Conversely, higher divorce rates were significantly related to lower concentrations of each of these four categories. Moreover, the independent effects of the concentration of these denominational categories were able to explain 49 percent of the variance in the divorced rate with a confidence level of p<.01.

No statistically significant relationships, however, were found between the rate of divorced persons and a higher concentration of each of the remaining three categories: “conservative” Protestants, “liberal” Protestants,* and Jews.

It's actually a well-known fact in sociological circles that conservative revivalistic denominations are not particularly good for marriage -- in fact the researchers were surprised "conservative" Protestants didn't create an increase in divorce. But I have a hunch that a grouping by intensity of conversion experience expected would actually give a better resolution of Protestant churches that the conservative-liberal continuum. It is unfortunately the case that when adults are born again the new person isn't as happy with the old husband or wife. To put it this way: to promote stable marriages churches need to promote two things: 1) the value of marriage; and 2) the value of stability. Liberal Protestants fail at the first; revivalist sects fail at the second.

So one could make a good argument that the United States is more religious than Europe despite the anarchy of revivalistic sects, not because of it. (More tidbits along the lines of how a society-wide social church is actually better for society than passionate revivalism here. Short version: Southern Baptists are good for society only when they act like the state churches they rebelled against.)

5) But of course deep thinkers know that industrialization is what's really responsible for the breakup of the family. It's simplistic to just think that we can have the agricultural family in a post-industrial era. Right? Again, not exactly.

Looking at the effects of the industrialization on family forms,

[Michael J. Rosenfeld] marvels at how American families “weathered the social changes of the Industrial Revolution together.” In fact, because “the Industrial Revolution in the United States … took place during a period of Victorian social retrenchment,” Rosenfeld believes that in many ways “family government” remained quite strong. As a result, “some aspects of American family life remained surprisingly unchanged” during this tempestuous era.

During America’s Industrial Revolution, Rosenfeld points out, “most single young adults … remained in their parents’ homes until they married.” This pattern of coresidence allowed parents to maintain “a significant degree of supervision over their children’s social lives and made it much more difficult for young adults to form the kinds of unions that their parents would not have approved of.” As a consequence of this family governance, “age at first marriage remained constant” during the Industrial Revolution while “extramarital cohabitation remained rare.” As evidence of the remarkably persistent power of family governance, Rosenfeld cites Census data indicating that between 1880 and 1960 the percentage of American men living in nonmarital cohabitation “remained steady at 0.1 percent, one per thousand.”

So what's caused the rise in extramarital cohabitation? Well, it's not complicated:

Central to this analysis is the erosion of “the long-established norm of intergenerational adult coresidence.” Rosenfeld adduces statistics showing that “between 1950 and 2000 the percentage of single adult young women who lived with their parents dropped from 65 to 36 percent.” Not coincidentally, the percentage of young unmarried adults who headed their own households rose—fully 30 percent of young unmarried women and 27 percent of young unmarried men were heading their own households by 1980.

Young adults living with their parents while dating are less likely to move in with a boy or girlfriend, than young adults already in their own apartments. Simple, huh? No "deep-seated causes" no "deep loss of faith" dating from nominalism or the Reformation or industrialization, is needed to explain the rise in extramarital cohabitation: no, it's just that sometime between 1955 and 1965 parents and children stopped thinking it was appropriate for unmarried twenty-somethings to live at home. (And colleges stopped having parietal rules, by the way.)

Anyway, I love this kind of stuff and there's lots more there. Check it out for yourself.

*Moderate Protestant: e.g. AME Zion, American Lutheran Church, United Methodists (19 denominations)
Miscellaneous: e.g. Evangelical Mennonites, Quakers (12 denominations)
Conservative: e.g. Church of the Nazarene, Brethren, LCMS, Salvation Army, Southern Baptist (59 denominations)
Liberal: e.g. ECUSA, PCUSA, UCC (eight denominations)

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Numbers and the Mongols

William of Rubruck was a thirteenth century Christian missionary to the Mongols. A man of great intelligence and piety, his account ranks alongside the masterpieces of historical writing such as Juvaini, Rashiduddin (Rashid al-Din), and the Secret History of the Mongols as sources on the Mongol empire. (Good cheap edition here.)

Although his account is not studded with Biblical quotations, in three points he draws analogies between the Mongols' practice of nomadism and that described in the Old Testament in the patriarchal and Mosaic eras. Put together these descriptions highlight how Rubruck saw the Mongols as living out in his era the same practices of the Biblical past.

In chapter 2, "The Tartars and Their Dwellings," he begins:

The Tartars have no abiding city nor do they know of the one that is to come. They have divided among themselves Scythia, which stretches from the Danube as far as the rising of the sun. Each captain, according to whether he has more or fewer men under him, know the limits of his pasturage and where to feed his flocks in winter, summer, spring, and autumn . . .

The allusion is to Hebrews 13:14 ("For we have not here an abiding city, but we seek after the city which is to come," ASV). This passage is returning to the theme of the wanderings of Abraham and the patriarchs in Hebrews 11:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

In William of Rubruck's hands this allusion thus becomes an illustration of the paradox of the Mongol life -- they could be like the patriarchs, but they refuse to be. Song Chinese writers like Zhao Gong express at length the same theme, that the Mongols are like the archaic past of Chinese civilization, and yet rather than recapitulate that past and grow into the Song Chinese or Latin Christian present, they insist on being stubbornly attached to their own religion and empire. The very division of land underlines that the Mongol nomads are not going anywhere, just moving cyclically through the seasons in a set territory.

The other two passages are more ethnographic and less evaluatative:

When I saw Baatu's orda [great court or palace tent, the origin of the word "horde"] I was overcome with fear, for his own houses seemed like a great city stretching out a long way and crowded round on every side by people to a distance of three or four leagues. Just as the people of Israel knew, each one of them, where they should pitch their tents in relation to the tabernacle, so these know on what side of the orda they are to place themselves when they unload their dwellings (chapter 19).

Here the reference is to the description of the arrangment of the Israelite camp in Numbers 2: Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun to the east, Reuben, Simeon, and Gad to the south, Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin to the west, and Dan, Asher, and Naphthali to the north with the center being the tabernacle. Here we have a simple comparative point that establishes an analogy between Israel's migration in Sinai and the Mongols' nomadism in "Scythia." All camping has to have an order and a hierarchy. Baatu is the center of the Mongols' great camp, just as the tabernacle is of the Israelites'. This hierarchy then extends down from that center.

Perhaps the most interesting passage is at the conclusion of chapter 25, where having described his conversations with the priests of the Uyghur idolators (which in medieval Eurasia always means Buddhists or Daoists, never unwritten pagan religions), he continues:

The Mongols or Tartars belong to their sect as far as their believing in only one God is concerned; they do, nevertheless, make out of felt images of their dead and they clothe these in most precious materials and place them in one or two carts; these carts nobody dares touch and they are in charge of their diviners who are their priests; I will tell you later about them [these priests are termed today "shamans"].

These diviners always go before the orda [palace tent] of Mangu [a.k.a. Möngke Khan] and other rich men; the poor, however, do not have them, only those of Chingis' stock [i.e. the descendants of Chinggis, or Genghis, Khan]. When it is time for them to move they go before them as a pillar of cloud went before the children of Israel and they inspect the place where the camp is to be measured out and first unload their dwellings and after them the orda. Then when it is a feast day or the first of the month they bring out the afore-mentioned images and place them in order in a circle in their dwelling. Then the Mongols come, enter the dwelling and bow to the images and venerate them. And no stranger may enter there, for I on one occasion wanted to go in and was roundly rated.

Here William of Rubruck works with an implicit "comparative religions" framework. The carts with the felt images are like the tabernacle (untouchable by outsiders), the priests or diviners are like the priests and Levites, and the spirit guidance they use to direct nomadization is like the divine guidance the Israelites received from the pillar of cloud. As we see in Numbers 10 (cf. Exodus 13):

So they set out from the mount of the LORD three days' journey. And the ark of the covenant of the LORD went before them three days' journey, to seek out a resting place for them. And the cloud of the LORD was over them by day, whenever they set out from the camp. And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, "Arise, O LORD, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you." And when it rested, he said, "Return, O LORD, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel."

Since William of Rubruck elsewhere treats these diviners as flatterers of the royal family, sacrificing innocents to bogus witchcraft accusations in order to escape punishment themselves, it is striking that here he draws the analogy between the two so clearly.

As Margaret Hodgen described in her fascinating book Early Anthropology in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, the Bible was the first resource of European ethnology, generating the basic framework of common origin we still work with today. Drawing analogies with the patriarchal and Mosaic Israel implied the future development of institutions like monarchy and "civility," thus implying social evolutionism. It is unfortunate, however, that the vast majority of medieval observers were so much less observant than William of Rubruck.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Some Observations and Hypotheses on the Social Democracy-Secularism Connection

Here's some other interesting ideas on how and why social democracy strengthens secularism:

Mary Eberstadt here suggests that the correlation of fertility and religion goes the opposite way than what we think: it's not that loss of religion causes lower fertility, but that lower fertility causes loss of religion. The piece seems more suggestive than definitive, ef="">university press release:

Reiss said that each of the 16 basic desires outlined in the book influence the psychological appeal of religious behavior. The desires are power, independence, curiosity, acceptance, order, saving, honor, idealism, social contact, family, status, vengeance, romance, eating, physical exercise, and tranquility.

His research is not the usual reductionist stuff (it's also not that incisive, alas) and emphasizes how all sixteen desires interact in religious experience.

Reiss has already done some initial research that suggests the desire for independence is a key psychological desire that separates religious and non-religious people. In a study published in 2000, Reiss found that religious people (the study included mostly Christians) expressed a strong desire for interdependence with others. Those who were not religious, however, showed a stronger need to be self-reliant and independent.

The study also showed that religious people valued honor more than non-religious people, which Reiss said suggests many people embrace religion to show loyalty to parents and ancestors.

Reiss defines "honor" here in a somewhat special way as the idea of living up to one's family, continuing their legacy, and not shaming them.

If he's right, my sense is that most people in Christian societies have little sense of what is psychological drives are strong in the religious.** If asked, my guess is what people would say is that religion fulfills desires for idealism or tranquility (pro) or order or vengeance (con).

OK, put it all together and here's what my general hypothesis:

Religion (or at least the Christian religion) increases when people live in stable, interdependent families that have thick, multi-generational identity, and where good and bad deeds are sanctioned by highly personal punishment and reward. (The best picture of what I mean is here).

How does this relate to social democracy? Here are my detailed hypotheses:

1) Social democracy weakens the sense of family (and other social groups) as lineage from past to future. First a universal pension system makes having children (hence the survival of the group) optional. This is also encouraged by removing sex from procreation -- but I would guess the effect of this is relatively minor, compared to that of universal pensions. Second, by insulating children from the bad decisions of their parents, they remove that sense that my decisions now have consequences for future generations. In other words, egalitarianism, by seeking to eliminating being born in one family rather than another as a generator of life outcomes, comprehensively diminishes the consequences for future generations of one's actions now. Finally, the tendency to replace marriage with cohabitation denies the child a sense of being born into a fixed and named social group (the Joneses, the Smiths, etc.) that is formed and continued by definite ritual incorporation via marriage.

The decoupling of the present generation from the past or future can be seen in the increase in disposal of the bodies of the dead in ways that leave no site for personal remembrance (grave, shrine, columbaria, etc.) which seems to be a prominent feature of European social democratic societies. (That's what Bottum is talking about.)

2) Social democratic values are hostile to shame and guilt as a sanction for bad behavior. The anti-punitive measures focus on the idea of good behavior as rational and bad behavior as resulting not in punishment from some one who loves you, but rather in the impersonal consequences of one's behavior. To put it very crudely, if you've been spanked as a child the concept of sin as an offense against a loving God, rather than a foolish act that results in impersonal consequences, becomes much more plausible. But again social democracy is comprehensively hostile to the concept of punitive sanctions, as opposed to rehabilitation and/or experiencing the automatic consequences of one's unwise actions. As a result sanctions for good or bad actions are systematically depersonalized, i.e. separated from the anger or joy of someone you love.

3) By removing key functions from the family, the social democratic system removes the effect that forces people to live in intense, long-lasting relationships. In more practical terms, household size declines because people can afford to move out. As an adaption to growing up under these conditions, the desire for independence grows and the desire for interdependence declines. Where school and day care are extended to ever greater percentages of childhood, this effect is intensified.

To summarize, all other things being equal*, religion in Christian countries** makes most sense for people who belong to defined and named social groups (families and larger) with a recognized multi-generational past and future, who can bring on themselves and that family intense feelings of honor or guilt/shame by bad or good actions, and who in order to make a living are pushed into intense, permanent, and deeply interdependent relations with the other members of that family.

It makes least sense for people raised as individuals who have individual parents but no sense of a corporate family past and no sense of an obligation to have children in the future, who experience the results of good and bad actions only as an impersonal outworking of actions in the nature of things, and who are financially able to freely move in and out of family groups and live alone or with new persons.

Social democracy devastates religion in Christian countries because it sets about deliberately and systematically to turn a society made of the first type of persons into a society made of the second type of persons.

*Which they almost never are.
**This indirect phrasing is deliberate. Someone might say "Well, Christianity is a relationship, not a religion!" OK, if that's how you define it. But strangely enough, I bet you'll find getting people into your "relationship" will be easier in a society that stimulates "religious" values of interdependence and family honor, than in one that sees these as bad things.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Bible's Baptismal Liturgy

It can be found in Leviticus, chapter 8, where the rites appropriate to enrollment in the royal priesthood of the redeemed are set forth, partly in literal form and partly in types:

And Moses said to the congregation, "This is the thing that the LORD has commanded to be done."

The Act of Baptism
And Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water.

The Dressing in Baptismal Robes
And he put the coat on him and tied the sash around his waist and clothed him with the robe and put the ephod on him and tied the skillfully woven band of the ephod around him, binding it to him with the band. And he placed the breastpiece on him, and in the breastpiece he put the Urim and the Thummim. And he set the turban on his head, and on the turban, in front, he set the golden plate, the holy crown, as the LORD commanded Moses.

Chrismation (also called Confirmation in the Latin tradition)
Then Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and all that was in it, and consecrated them. And he sprinkled some of it on the altar seven times, and anointed the altar and all its utensils and the basin and its stand, to consecrate them. And he poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron's head and anointed him to consecrate him. And Moses brought Aaron's sons and clothed them with coats and tied sashes around their waists and bound caps on them, as the LORD commanded Moses.

Sermon, that is, Explanation of the Need for Atonement and our identification by faith with the one being sacrificed for our sin, and the Prayer of the Church
Then he brought the bull of the sin offering, and Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the bull of the sin offering. And he killed it, and Moses took the blood, and with his finger put it on the horns of the altar around it and purified the altar and poured out the blood at the base of the altar and consecrated it to make atonement for it. And he took all the fat that was on the entrails and the long lobe of the liver and the two kidneys with their fat, and Moses burned them on the altar. But the bull and its skin and its flesh and its dung he burned up with fire outside the camp, as the LORD commanded Moses. Then he presented the ram of the burnt offering, and Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram. And he killed it, and Moses threw the blood against the sides of the altar. He cut the ram into pieces, and Moses burned the head and the pieces and the fat. He washed the entrails and the legs with water, and Moses burned the whole ram on the altar. It was a burnt offering with a pleasing aroma, a food offering for the LORD, as the LORD commanded Moses. Then he presented the other ram, the ram of ordination, and Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram. And he killed it, and Moses took some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron's right ear and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. Then he presented Aaron's sons, and Moses put some of the blood on the lobes of their right ears and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the big toes of their right feet. And Moses threw the blood against the sides of the altar.

The Offertory
Then he took the fat and the fat tail and all the fat that was on the entrails and the long lobe of the liver and the two kidneys with their fat and the right thigh, and out of the basket of unleavened bread that was before the LORD he took one unleavened loaf and one loaf of bread with oil and one wafer and placed them on the pieces of fat and on the right thigh. And he put all these in the hands of Aaron and in the hands of his sons and waved them as a wave offering before the LORD. Then Moses took them from their hands and burned them on the altar with the burnt offering. This was an ordination offering with a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the LORD. And Moses took the breast and waved it for a wave offering before the LORD. It was Moses' portion of the ram of ordination, as the LORD commanded Moses.

Holy Communion (bread, blood, sacrificial meat)
Then Moses took some of the anointing oil and of the blood that was on the altar and sprinkled it on Aaron and his garments, and also on his sons and his sons' garments. So he consecrated Aaron and his garments, and his sons and his sons' garments with him. And Moses said to Aaron and his sons, "Boil the flesh at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and there eat it and the bread that is in the basket of ordination offerings, as I commanded, saying, 'Aaron and his sons shall eat it.'

Provision for Reverent Handling of the Unconsumed Elements
And what remains of the flesh and the bread you shall burn up with fire.

And you shall not go outside the entrance of the tent of meeting for seven days, until the days of your ordination are completed, for it will take seven days to ordain you. As has been done today, the LORD has commanded to be done to make atonement for you. At the entrance of the tent of meeting you shall remain day and night for seven days, performing what the LORD has charged, so that you do not die, for so I have been commanded." And Aaron and his sons did all the things that the LORD commanded by Moses.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Does Social Democracy Automatically Produce Secularism and Materialism?

Nor is it all that surprising that faith has imploded in most of the west. Every single 1st world nation that is irreligious shares a set of distinctive attributes. These include handgun control, anti-corporal punishment and anti-bullying policies, rehabilitative rather than punitive incarceration, intensive sex education that emphasizes condom use, reduced socio-economic disparity via tax and welfare systems combined with comprehensive health care, increased leisure time that can be dedicated to family needs and stress reduction, and so forth.

. . . .

The result is plain to see. Not a single advanced democracy that enjoys benign, progressive socio-economic conditions retains a high level of popular religiosity. They all go material.

This is the argument of Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman on Why the Gods Are Not Winning, and in case you couldn't tell, they think the rise of social democracy and the slow extinction of religion is a good thing. America is religious solely because not being a social democracy (yet), it has a un-benign and unprogressive socio-economic situation. (You can follow the link to get their Hobbesian view of Middle American life.)

Razib has a fine refutation of their secular predictions, entitled Why the Gods Will Not Be Defeated. You can find further discussion from Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat too.

OK, but none of them really deal with the linked assertion of Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman, that 1) that there is a correlation between the policies we call social democracy and intense secularism; and 2) that this correlation goes from social democracy to secularism (and not the other way around).

I've have long noticed both of these things. And yes, it seems that chronologically, welfare states come first and then rapid secularization.

From the point of view of someone who actually sees God as important this would seem to be an important point. If this correlation works, then social democracy kills the church, which for a Christian would seem to be reason enough to anathemize social democracy and all its works.

Does anyone else see this correlation? Anyone have explanations? I am particularly interested in the large tribe of Christian social democrats -- do you see this correlation? Can you point to exceptions? How do you explain it? In recommending that countries adopt policies on welfare and law enforcement that are similar to Sweden, what makes you think you are not also inadvertently encouraging the secularism of Sweden?

UPDATE: OK, I think it might help analysis to break down social democracy a bit. In the list presented by Paul and Zuckerman, there are three broad areas:

1) Anti-retributive measures: abolition of the death penalty, handgun control, pressure against corporal punishment in home and school, rehabilitative vs. punitive incarceration, etc.

2) Sexual liberty measures: sex education in schools, encouragement of contraception, legal abortion funded by national health plans, legalization of pornography, removal of any stigma on homosexuality, pressure against fixed sex roles.

3) Welfare state measures: national pension system, public housing, national health care for all citizens, high marginal tax rates on the wealthy, free pre-school and day care, etc.

Note: what Paul and Zuckerman mean by welfare state is particularly measures that remove whole areas of life from private funding for everyone in society. Thus, any measures directly specifically at the poor, such as Medicaid or food stamps, do not really count. (Such measures can be seen as continuous with the long-standing tradition of "poor laws" and hence do not seem new enough to explain the new phenomenon of mass secularization.)

Together these three areas form a group, in that most of the active proponents of one will also support the other. Christian social democrats generally support 1 and 3 most actively, but are more ambivalent about 2.

The US is less social democractic than the European Union on all three. Curiously, though, the sharpest contrast is in no. 1, and the least contrast is in no. 2, with no. 3 in between.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The most interesting political posts I've been reading lately have been writing from the perspective of: granted the Bush Presidency has been a disaster, what (if any) type of conservatism should take its place? This is, of course, an issue that is very "up", in the sense that the GOP electoral primary will play a big part in deciding the issue. And right now the signs aren't good.

Let me just start with one presupposition:

As for Republican nominees for '08, the big question is not "Which Republican will make the best president?" but, "With which candidate will losing in '08 position the party best to recover later?" America will not chose a Republican or a conservative, and realistically speaking, who can blame her?

Peggy Noonan asked the question here:

Most importantly for him, and for all the Republican candidates for that matter, Mr. Thompson will have to answer this question: What is he running to do? Why should the Republicans get another eight years, or four years, after all the missteps they've made? Isn't conservatism, or Republicanism, or whatever you call it, just tired? Isn't it over? Isn't America just waiting for whatever will take its place?

Why shouldn't liberalism get a shot? Could they mess up more? Why should we trust Republicans with foreign affairs?

Fred Thompson can't answer that question. My sense is that Richard Cohen has Fred Thompson exactly right when he says this:

If Thompson's name came up in some sort of free-association game, he would be a genuine stumper: Thompson and what? There is no Thompson Act, Thompson Compromise, Thompson Hearing, Thompson Speech or Thompson Anything that comes to mind. No living man can call himself a Thompsonite. Instead, Thompson came and went from the Senate as if he were never there, leaving only the faint scent of ennui. "I don't want to spend the rest of my life up here," he once said. "I don't like spending 14- and 16-hour days voting on 'sense of the Senate' resolutions on irrelevant matters." As a call to action, this lacks a certain something.

. . .

Thompson never showed that he was out to change matters, to right some major wrong, to fix the god-awful mess the country is in. I contrast him with a senator I recently chatted with who took virtually childlike delight in being a senator -- being able, as he said, to be a player. He savored his power -- as one of only 100. What a difference he could make!

. . .

The presidency is where a person can make the most difference. But the emergence of Thompson shows that a fatigued Republican Party is not interested in making any difference at all -- just in hanging on.

The fact that Fred Thompson is such a big name is a very bad sign for the GOP, a sign that saying the right things, not actually governing, is what we want. Daniel Larison has pointed out that polling may be confirming this:

Asked of "leaned Republicans" whether Bush is leading the GOP in the right direction or the wrong direction 65% still say he is leading the party in the right direction. There is no hope for a party base this out of it. Sorry, folks. Curiously, conservative self-identification is up to its highest level in months (37%), matching or beating results from last summer. The support for Bush’s party leadership helps to explain why most of the GOP presidential candidates are not heading off in bold new directions. They find themselves confronted with core constituencies that apparently think Mr. Bush has been good for the Republican Party and is doing the right sorts of things for that party, so they have to play along. It is basically inexplicable why all these Republicans think this, but there you have it.

But on the other hand, there's something about the paleo-con Daniel Larison approach that makes me think, this is not the way to go.

Here's a throwaway line from one of Larison's recent posts (HT: Eating Words):

If the Post, the establishment’s unofficial propaganda organ, has nice things to say about it [i.e. Barack Obama's foreign policy], look out.

I'm sorry, after the Bush administration, I want a little more mainstream. I want a little less denounciation of this or that with which I disagree as "propaganda" (or MSM, or all the other labels we use to escape unpleasant facts). I want a little more respect for expertise.

(And no I don't want generic toughness, which seems all that Giuliani has on offer.)

Here's the big picture. I don't have time to develop this, so I'll just outline it:

Democracy and expertise are reciprocals: the more of one, the less of the other. By definition, when an issue is decided by expert advice, it's not decided by voting. But expert advice is part of management -- the managerial state is run on expertise, not voting. (This was Socrates's beef with democracy -- if politics is a science, indeed the noblest of sciences, then it can't be put in the hands of those uneducated in it. Instead it must be practiced by guardians, like doctors, who protect the people from their own unhealthy desires.)

Thus small-government people are inherently anti-expertise. When a government issue is decided by experts it empowers educated white collar workers -- predominantly from the core or metropole of the country. But yes, expertise can be bogus or get out of hand. When it does, then small-government people win elections.

And one brilliant way for small-government intellectuals to discredit their opponents is to turn the old Marxist trick back on the left. Reality is socially constructed by class interests, eh? Well, then, when a law is declared unconstitutional, don't argue the merits of the case, instead point out that the class ramification of this is that the decision makers are no longer the population as a whole, but instead a class comprised of elite law school grads, and that that class has interests, which are by definition not congruent with the interests of the general public.

This works, because some of reality is socially constructed, and government is indeed not a thing apart from society, but instead is composed of people, who themselves have interests. They serve those interests by representing their own interests as "objective truth."

Ever heard the phrase (it was big in the Reagan era), "personnel is policy"? That if you have a conservative president, but the bureaucracy is liberal, then you won't get conservative policy? This is the intellectual justification for that position. Policy to benefit the proletariat must be made by the proletariat was the original formulation. But it was adopted by conservatives to mean "Policy to benefit red-staters ultimately must be made by red-staters." Better red than expert was the Maoist version. Better to have the right world view than to have some degree is the conservative version.

There is some truth to this, and that truth is why no matter how "stupid" or "biased" the people, a lot of things have to be left in their hands. The cry "Let the majority decide!" needs to be always out there as a push-back to bogus or over-extended expertise. But it's not the whole truth! If it were, then the whole history of mankind would be a history of struggle between communities -- class struggle -- with no chance of real improvement for society as a whole. And that plank of Marxism isn't true!

There is such a thing as objective expertise. There really is a good reason to put monetary policy in the hands of economics Ph.D.'s There really is a good reason to have the NIH run by people who have been to medical school. A conservative activist's opinion about whether global warming is happening really is less valuable than that of a climatologist. (And yes, that applies to teaching biology and evolution, too).

This is what the progressive movement in the late 19th-early 20th century discovered: social science, to some degree, exists! Human affairs can, to some degree, be studied objectively! We can, to some degree, realize the promise of Socrates of managing human affairs better by entrusting them to trained experts!

Over time, paleo-conservatives have always said to this possibility, "even if we could, it's too dangerous: it will strengthen the state too much." But the American people have not agreed. They have cautiously allowed institutions like the Fed, like transit authorities, like the NIH, like the Smithsonian, like state universities, to be created, to be funded by the government and then to be given autonomy from the public, autonomy from the voter, autonomy from anyone who doesn't share the expertise in that field that comes from have a particular training.
Some of these organs don't make policy. But some, like the Fed or the transit authorities, we depend on to administer things that citizens use every day, like money, or like NJTransit or airports. But to the Paleo-cons and the libertarians, these look like little pilot projects for Socrates's guardians.

Here's the problem with the conservative movement to date. It's accepted the dogma "personnel is policy" and "Better red(-state) than expert," but it hasn't actually reduced the sphere of government decision-making! The original purpose of the anti-expertise argument within the American political tradition was to say, "there is no neutral, technocratic way to do X, so any government action on X is just raw majoritarian tyranny in which one community prevails over another, so the government shouldn't do X at all." But if you use the argument, and still leave the government doing X, well, then you are indeed getting the drawbacks of majoritarian tyranny, without the benefits of expertly administered meritocracy.

So where does that leave me?

I'm not with the paleo-cons or the libertarians. I feel closest to Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam's "Sam's Club Republicanism" (which as Reihan pointed out is just social conservatism). I still believe in a lot of basically conservative, Republican principles, but I believe in trying to be impartial and even-handed, using (where they help) the social science and the managerial state so scorned by the righteous brothers of the alienated right to help build a society of strong families.

I guess I'm looking for an administration that will have the humility to seek out neutral expertise where it is applicable, the courage to follow our traditional American order where it is not, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Gosh I sound like David Broder.

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Anne Applebaum Loses It

Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum succumbed to a fit of spluttering rage and incoherent cursing recently. About the plan to install components for missile defense against Iran in the Czech Republic and Poland, she screams:

A mere four years later, New Europe no longer exists. . . . Mortally wounded by Iraq, damaged further by the American administration's lack of interest in its concerns -- change in the U.S. visa regime, military assistance -- New Europe will probably now be killed off completely by American plans to build a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

. . . . .

Yet it seems no one in the Pentagon ever imagined that there might be objections to the project, or that the locals might want some extra reassurance, or that a bit of judicious diplomacy might have smoothed the way in advance. According to some, the State Department didn't even know the missile shield was going ahead until the Pentagon had made the decision. Sound familiar?

And all of this, every bit of it, was avoidable. Indeed, New Europe is expiring just as France and Germany have acquired leaders distinctly more pro-American than their predecessors. With a bit more attention and a bit less arrogance, the transatlantic alliance might now be reinvigorated instead of being angry and resentful. When we get around to assessing Bush's foreign policy, the damage done on the old continent may loom almost as large as the damage done in Iraq.

OK, that's not exactly a screed, but it is as close to one as Anne Applebaum -- a pundit for whom the word judicious might have been invented -- will ever get. When she talks like that, she must be very worried and very upset. A few weeks ago, I attended a lecture by some Mongolian officials (current and former diplomats) and in between the cautious phrasing, for the first time they seemed genuinely worried that the US might push them into hosting something similar. They are worried both about the effect on Russia and about the general impression that this administration is completely oblivious and unpredictable.

Adding everything together, I feel the same way.

Oh well. Add my name to the number of former supporters filing for "divorce" from this administration -- and feeling a salutary sense of shame and humiliation.

P.S. for a rational take on Iran by Peter Hitchens, go here.

Monday, June 04, 2007

In Honor of Trinity Sunday

Yesterday was Trinity Sunday, and the Athanasian Creed was read. Now as has long been known, the Athanasian Creed was not actually written by St. Athanasius (AD 293-373). Actually it probably first was used in Gaul around AD 500.

Gaul? AD 500? As you may have guessed, then, it has something to do with Gregory of Tours and his History of the Franks. He does not mention the creed itself, but he illustrates the environment in which it was made. The Franks made their mark in post-Roman history by converting to Orthodoxy/Catholicism. Based around modern Paris, their king Clovis then used that orthodox catholic confession to win support from the Gallo-Roman elite for driving out from southern France the Gothic kings of Spain who professed the Arian faith. So Gregory of Tours was a supporter, at least nominally, of the Catholic and Orthodox Frankish kings against the Arian Gothic kings based in Spain. Arianism may have been kaput among the Latin speaking populations of the West, but among the new barbarian monarchs and their supporters among the native Latins it was still a going concern.

Gregory records a number of theological debates, including one with an Arian and another with a Frankish king who had a new "compromise" position. Here is one debate, in honor of Trinity Sunday:

As envoy to Chilperic [a Frankish king], King Leuvigild [of Spain, a Goth] sent Agilan, a man of low intelligence, untrained in logical argument, but distinguished by his hatred of our Catholic faith. Tours was on his route and he took advantage of this to attack me [i.e. Gregory, as the bishop of Tours] concerning my beliefs and to assail the dogmas of the Church.

"The bishops of the early Church made a foolish pronouncement," he said, "when they asserted that the Son was equal to the Father. How can He be equal to the Father, when He says: My Father is greater than I? It is not right that the Son should be considered equal to he Father when He Himself admits that He is less, when it is to the Father that He complains about the miserable manner of His death, when at the very moment of His death He commends His spirit to the Father, as if He Himself were completely powerless. Surely it is quite obvious that He is less than the Father, both in power and in age!"

In reply to this, I asked him if he believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and if he admitted that He was the wisdom of God, the light, the truth, the life, the justice of God. Agilan answered, "I believe that the Son of God was all those things."

Then I said: "Tell me now, when was the Father without wisdom? When was He without light, without life, without truth, without justice? Just as the Father could not exist without these things, so He could not exist without the Son. These attributes are absolutely essential to the mystery of the Godhead. Similarly the Father could hardly be called the Father if He had no Son. When you quote the Son as having said: My Father is greater than I, you must know that He said this in the lowliness of the flesh, which He had assumed so that He might teach you that you were redeemed not by His power but by His humility. You must also remember, when you quote the words, My Father is greater than I, that He also says in another place, I and my Father are one. His fear of death and the fact that He commended His spirit are a reference to the weakness of the flesh, so that, just as He is believed to be very God, so may He be believed to be very man."

Agilan answered, "He who does what another commands is less than the other; the Son is always less than the Father because He does the will of the Father, whereas there is no proof that the Father does the will of the Son."

"You must not understand," I replied, "that the Father is the Son and that the Son is in the Father, each subsisting in one Godhead. If you want proof that the Father does the will of the Son, consider what our Lord Jesus Christ says when He comes to raise Lazarus
-- that is, if you have any faith in the Gospel at all: Father I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I know that thou hearest me always, but because of the people which by I said it, that they may believe that thou has sent me. When He comes to His Passion, He says: And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. Then the Father replies from Heaven: I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. Therefore the Son is equal to the Godhead, and not inferior in anything else. If you admit that the Son is God, you must agree that He is perfect and that He lacks nothing. If you deny that He is perfect, then you do not admit that He is God."

Agilan answered: "It was after He was made man that He began to be called the Son of God; there was a time when He was not."

"Listen to David speaking in the name of the Lord," I replied, "Out of the womb have I borne thee, before the morning star.* John the Evangelist says: In the beginning was the Words, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, by whom all things were made. You are so blinded by your poisonous heresy that you do not understand the Godhead."

Agilan answered: "Do you believe that the Holy Ghost is God and do you maintain that He is equal to the Father and the Son?"

"In the Three there is one will, one power, one action," I replied, "one God in Trinity and three Persons in unity. There are three Persons, but one kingdom, one majesty, one power, one omnipotence."

Agilan answered: "The Holy Ghost, who is equal to the Father and the Son, according to you, is clearly less than either, for we read that He was promised by the Son and sent by the Father. No one promises anything which is not in his power, and no one sends any person who is not his own inferior. Jesus himself says in the Gospel: If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you."

I replied, "The Son does well to say before His Passion that if He does not return in victory to His Father, having redeemed the world with His own blood and having prepared a habitation in the heart of man, the Holy Ghost, which is God, cannot come down from Heaven into a heart which is idolatrous and spotted with the stain of original sin. As Solomon says: The Holy Ghost will flee deceit.** As you hope for resurrection, do not speak against the Holy Ghost. As the Word of God puts it: Whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come."

Agilan answered, "God is He who sends; he who is sent is not God."

Then I asked him if he believed the doctrine of the Apostles Peter and Paul.

He answered: "I do believe."

"When the Apostle Peter accuses Ananias of behaving fraudulently over the field which he sold," I replied, "he asks: Why hath it seemed good to thee to lie to the Holy Ghost? Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. When Paul is differentiating between the dogmas of spiritual graces, he says, But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to each man severally as he will. The man who achieves what he has set out to do is under an obligation to no one. [i.e. if the Holy Ghost has the freedom to distribute spiritual gifts as He wills, then he is not under obligation to the Father or Son.] As I have said already, you are absolutely wrong about the Holy Trinity and, what is more, the way your founder, Arius, met his end shows just how perverse and wicked your sect is."

Agilan answered, "You must not blaspheme against a faith which you yourself do not accept. You notice that we who do not believe the things which you believe nevertheless do not blaspheme against them. It is no crime for one set of people to believe in one doctrine and anotehr set of people to believe in another. Indeed, it is a proverbial saying with us that no harm is done when a man whose affairs take him past the altars of the Gentiles and the Church of God pays respect to both."

I realized what a fool the man was. "You are, I perceive," said I, "at once a defender of the Gentiles and a champion of the heretics. You not only defile the dogmas of the Church, but you also advocate the worship of pagan abominations. You would do much better to arm yourself with the faith which Abraham found near the oak tree, Isaac in the ram, Jacob in the stone, and Moses in the bush; the faith which Aaron wor in the ephod, which David knew when he danced with the timbrel, and which Solomon proclaimed by his wisdom; the faith which all the patriarchs and prophets, and the very Law itself, have celebrated in their oracular pronouncements and represented symbolically in their sacrifices; the faith which our own Martin, as is witnessed still today, possesses in his heart and manifests in his miraculous power. If you were converted to Catholicism, you would believe in the indivisible Trinity, you would be able to receive my blessing, your heart would be cleansed of the poison of false belief, and your sins would be washed away."

Agilan lost his temper and ground his teeth, almost as if he was going off his head. "May my soul leave the confines of my body," he muttered, "before I ever receive a benediction from a priest of your religion!"

"May the Lord never permit my religion or faith to grow so tepid," I answered, "that I waste His blessing upon dogs, or cast the sacredness of His precious pearls before filthy swine!"

At this Agilan gave up the discussion, rose to his feet, and marched out.

Some time later, when he was back again in Spain, he fell seriously ill: as a result he felt a compulsion to accept conversion to our religion
(pp. 307-310).

This last note is crucial to understanding Gregory's point. What convinces heretics? The Bible? No, because even though all our arguments are based firmly on the Bible, the heretics are blinded and like Agilan will not listen to truth. What convinces heretics is Pentecostal power -- the direct and miraculous intervention of God. Arius seems wrong according to the Scriptures, but what really makes the case decisive is that how he died: his guts spilled out his anus in the lavatory (p. 135). He must be a heretic! After Agilan hears and denies all the arguments, he gets sick and has to believe. That is why of the witnesses of the Trinity, it is St. Martin who is placed in the last and best place: his miracle-working power is alive as Gregory speaks, through the relics in his church.

*An alternative reading from Psalm 110.
**In the Wisdom of Solomon, a deutero-canonical work.

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I Am a Melvin

I just wish I knew what it meant. Read this and see why it matters. Otherwise, I seem to be a normal human being.

And let me add one to the list, since Josh doesn't seem to have much experience with liberal or liberalizing liturgical churches.

Actually believe the things you say when you read aloud the Bible and the Creed, in simple, unconvoluted ways, without a hundred qualifications.

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