26 Jul 2007

This is Funny stuff. It reminded me of what we learned about Hillary Clinton in a breathless and unintentionally hilarious old Washingon Post profile (“Hillary Clinton’s Inner Politics,” May 6, 1993). The first line of the article is one of the great howlers of modern journalism:

It just happened, slipped out- from deep inside of her-in a quiet but stunning way.

I could lovingly quote the article’s comedy further, but to get to the point, Mrs. Clinton is eventually quoted thusly:

My politics are a real mixture… An amalgam. And I get so amused when these people try to characterize me: She is this, therefore she believes the following 25 things. … Nobody’s ever stopped to ask me or try to figure out the new sense of politics that Bill and a lot of us are trying to create. The labels are irrelevant. And yet, the political system and the reporting of it keep trying to force us back into the boxes because the boxes are so much easier to talk about. You don’t have to think. You can just fall back on the old, discredited Republican versus Democrat, liberal versus conservative mindsets.

By now I know what you’re thinking: “Put the pipe down, Hillary.” But seriously, the point is this: it pays to regard those who will not let themselves be defined concretely with much caution. It’s been my experience that those who claim to have moved beyond labels are up to no good.

Those who take issue with the Emergent Church Movement, which is mostly repackaged liberalism, are told that they just don’t get it. All attempts to clearly define terms are rebuffed (just like Arius).

I get the same “you don’t get it” vibe from the far more erudite Federal Vision folks. Every time someone tries to take them to the woodshed, they seem to get buried under an avalanche of theological gobbledegook (at least to my limited ears). It turns out that our best theologians in the OPC and the PCA don’t “get” it either. If they can’t get it, how is a ninny like me going to get it?

Uncle. A man must understand his limitations. I’ve yet to meet an actual proponent anyway.

01 Jul 2007

Those who have the world in their hearts lament the loss of great men more than the loss of good men. -Matthew Henry, comment on Ezek 26:17.

01 Jun 2007

A Presbyterian pastor once told me that he wanted a church that welcomed Democrats. I’ve often recalled and mused on that comment. I should’ve asked him: what exactly does that mean in practice? Will he avoid using of the church pulpit to electioneer and instead focus on law and Gospel? Excellent! Or would he downplay God’s wrath against sins that many in our current culture are aggressively telling us are not sins? Perhaps he could attract Democrats by housing NARAL in his church basement, like a Columbus PCUSA church used to do. That’d attract the Democratic base.

Somehow there’s a conceit that being bipartisan is a good thing, that only those who are so are “open-minded.” “Moderate” is equated with “moderation,” as if conservatives cannot soberly evaluate things. In the last 20 years as a Christian, my views have changed on many topics, theological and political. My views on topics from environmentalism, the Fed, the Iraq War, social security, and public education aren’t Republican talking points (and Democrats would hate them more). Does such “open-mindedness” count, or only “open-mindedness” where one drifts leftward?

One thing hasn’t changed: my view of the modern Democratic party. It’s as rotten to the core as it was 20 years ago. The hardcore secularists and feminists who hate Christianity, the people at the forefront of excusing those who will not inherit the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor 6:9)… These folks know where their friends are. That is not to say that Tweedledee’s immorality makes Tweedledum a good boy; the Republican party believes good things that it doesn’t practice and it believes bad things that it does practice. The point is that members of a party built on blatantly unscriptural views aren’t folks we should be trying to attract unless we mean to eventually call them to repentance. (By the way, if Calvin were alive today, would he be pumped about the “hope” offered by the Obama campaign?)

Michael Horton once noted that people cry for balance whenever they do not want to take the time to think through their own position. That doesn’t stop them from “claiming moral superiority for having the grace, moderation and sophisticated detachment to stand above and outside the debate.” He’s right.

And what a phony sophistication it is. When I want to read people who’ve thought deeply about politics, I don’t read some dithering, non-partisan “religious leader” (an old congressman once told my dad that the only thing in the middle of the road is dead skunks). Moderates have this obnoxious idea that they think open and subtle thoughts — shades of gray! — while conservatives are ossified. My experience is the exact opposite: political moderates think shallow, dull, politicized thoughts without considering their implications. It’s the conservatives who have the quirky, vibrant minds that inform political thought. I don’t mean the Sean Hannity’s of the world, but the folks who aren’t on the airwaves: Howard Phillips, the reconstructionists, the folks over at mises.org (some of whom appear to be Christian), etc. You’ll gain sharper political insight from Malcolm Muggeridge, Samuel Johnson, Joe Sobran, and Solzhenitsyn than any “moderate” I can think of. And you’ll get big doses of withering wit while you’re at it.

18 Apr 2007

One hopes that the aftermath of this vicious shooting will not follow the pattern of past ones. That is: For a few days coverage will focus on “human stories” as details continue to emerge. After the shock subsides, the shootings will be fully politicized. This is to be expected in a rich land that worships the idol of politics, a land where the government expropriates massive amounts of money and spends more than 30% of GDP. Someone must do something! That something will involve a lot of taxpayer money and will not fix anything. It will probably make things worse.

Meanwhile a larger tragedy will occur: Christian leaders with evangelism opportunities will give bad answers to the “Why?” question on national TV. I’m still waiting to hear someone there connect such tragedies with Luke 13, to say that events like this are a small taste of coming judgment, to make the clarion call to repent and be ready.

Events like this underscore mortality and the eventual collapse of all houses built on sand. But for those who stand on the rock of Christ:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. -Psalm 46:1-7

I am praying for the families, but also for an uncompromising witness, especially for those who will reach wide audiences with their message.

01 Mar 2007

A certain blogger has called Barack Obama “a god to the godless.” Which leads to two thoughts. First, Obama may be Apollo right now in the liberal pantheon, but Al Gore is Zeus. Second, the substitution of political figures and political power for God is as old as the hills. Politicians are masters at using blather to masquerade as purveyors of hope.

Politics, like sex, is transcendence for the apostate. Secular mysticism.

06 Nov 2006

Ah, election season. Our political parties, like all political parties always and everywhere in our fallen world, are filled with power seekers attracted to power like flies to manure. Most politicians eventually discover found that dispensing the public treasury wins supporters. Both major parties do it. And yet our parties are different. One party has some good principles, and many decent lawmakers who implement them quite inconsistently. The other party espouses bad principles that at every point break the second table of the law. Covetousness- check. Immorality- check. Theft- check. The Democrats have it covered. Even the areas where they may conceivably be right (the war), they are right for the wrong reasons.

So get out and vote. I will be voting for men like this. At the same time, consider also these words from Lewis’s essay “Membership.”

As long as we are thinking only of natural values we must say that the sun looks down on nothing half so good as a household laughing together over a meal, or two friends talking over a pint of beer, or a man alone reading a book that interests him; and that all economics, politics, laws, armies, and institutions, save in so far as they prolong and multiply such scenes, are a mere ploughing the sand and sowing the ocean, a meaningless vanity and vexation of spirit. … But do not let us mistake necessary evils for good. The mistake is easily made. Fruit has to be tinned if it is to be transported, and has to lose thereby some of its good qualities. But one meets people who have learned actually to prefer the tinned fruit to the fresh. A sick society must think much about politics, as a sick man must think much about his digestion: to ignore the subject may be fatal cowardice for the one as for the other. But if either comes to regard it as the natural food of the mind – if either forgets that we think of such things only in order to be able to think of something else – then what was undertaken for the sake of health has become itself a new and deadly disease.

05 Jun 2006

What are the common threads in these progressive contest finalists? Well, first that none of these high-flown sentiments may be realized without being backed up by the threat of government force and bureaucracy. But second, we see this common thread of future vs. past. It reminded me of words Joe Sobran wrote in 1990, words which apply not only to politics, but to many debates going on in our churches.

In The Whig Interpretation of History, Herbert Butterfield lamented the tendency of historians to see the controversies of the past in the anachronistic categories of “progressive” and “reactionary.” Whig history interpreted the clash of, say, Reformers and Church not in terms the raging opponents would have understood, but as a battle between the forces of the future (Luther) and the forces of the past (Pope Leo X).

This way of flattening complicated disputes into easily grasped melodrama has trickled down into journalism. Many “news” stories have as their subtext the battle between Progressive good guys and Reactionary villains. Despite the official journalistic ethic of neutrality, unmistakable moral commitment creeps into news reports of conflict between pope and theologian, government and protestor, business and labor, white and black, male and female. We sense we’re getting cues as to which side we should be rooting for … The ultimate Progressive categories are not heaven and hell, or good and evil, or order and chaos, but Future and Past. Even the cusswords of the Progressive are chronological: archaic, outdated, Neanderthal, medieval.

…History itself has begun to demolish the Progressive mythology. Socialism is in moral, political, and economic ruins. The noble savages of the Third World have shown us what comes after “liberation.” And it’s all so tiresome. We have seen the Future, and it has acquired its own discreditable past.

24 Mar 2006

Our smarter-than-thou alternative paper posts its share of dumb articles. But this one (4/3/06 Edit: sorry, link no longer works), “The Vanishing Religious Middle,” wins a Stalin Prize for ignorance. It’s what happens when your understanding of evangelical Christianity comes from talk shows and liberal clergy instead of, well, real life in a local church. I have regularly attended several evangelical churches for the past 15 years, and visited ten others, and can count on one hand the number of sermons dealing even partially with politics. Political idolatry is a problem for many Christians, but most local churches simply are not fixated on political matters. The fault line is theological, not political.

For every Bible-believing church subverting Christ-crucified with politics, there must be 50 beset by moralism. That is, those evangelicals who find the worship of Christ in word and sacrament unappealing to their felt needs don’t want it replaced with marching orders from the Bush administration. They want tips for a better marriage.

And then there’s this:

Rev. Lisa Withrow of Delaware, who teaches at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio and is active in liberal causes, also said she couldn’t name any apolitical pastors.

Now this, priestess, I can believe. As the saying goes, a fox smells its own hole. I and my “pastor” friends are thoroughly politicized, so by projection my Bible-believing counterparts in the evangelical churches must be too.

Politics (aka. power), along with sex, is transcendence for the apostate. Absent the vertical God-man dimension, it’s all horizontal, mano-a-mano (oops, he/she-a-he/she). In more ways than one.

10 Feb 2006

George Orwell is known for his fiction, but Politics and the English Language is my favorite of his writings. This essay should be read by all. In addition to highlighting my own incompetence as a writer, Orwell shows how stale imagery and vagueness are used to deceive others.

Both major political parties do it. Hazy-speak is at least 95% of all political communication; the best way to lose an election is to directly state your intentions. And so listening to politicians is a tedious exercise in deciphering code. A favorite example was Bill Clinton’s 1992 announcement of a “New Covenant,” which he called “a solemn agreement between the people and their government based not simply on what each of us can take but what all of us must give to our Nation.” Translation: fork it over.

This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.

Orwell’s observations about “tacked together phrases” and Strunk&White’s famous epigram (“Omit needless words!”) ring in my ears louder than my ability to silence them. It is an ongoing struggle to be clear, to edit away. Clarity is a headache, but muddled thoughts betray a lazy lack of understanding. Generally you understand something when you can explain it so that others understand it. If you can’t, then the roast needs more time in the oven before it is ready to serve.

The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases ā€¯bestial atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder” one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine… This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases… can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.

A warning to those who have not read this essay before: It may infect you for life. You may find yourself recalling its words often, perhaps while watching political hacks argue on TV, or listening to a company presentation, or reading a mission statement.

08 Feb 2005

Had I been a journalist there, I should, I am sure, have spent my time hanging about King Herod’s palace, following the comings and goings of Pilate, trying to find out what was afoot in the Sanhedrin; the cameras would’ve been set up in Caesarea, not in Galilee, still less on Golgotha. -Malcolm Muggeridge

In politics, each day brings new tactics and positioning, one party continually seeking the upper hand. The cable shows drone on with repetitive talk and fabricated outrage to fill their time slots. People on message boards anxiously and angrily debate the appointment of a cabinet member, a person who will in 30 years time be as forgotten as someone from the Carter administration’s cabinet. They debate speeches that will be forgotten next week.

This hyper-focus on politics, this idolatry, has certainly increased with the rise of the internet. People blog day and night with a consistency as puzzling as it is tiresome. One transitory topic blows away, like a wisp of paper, and the caravan rolls on to the next one.

For many people, politics seems like an outlet to overcome their boredom and inaction, to connect with something larger than their lives. But what would happen if we gained everything sought from it? Perhaps it would improve our lives, but it wouldn’t bring ultimate joy to us or others. Politics isn’t capable of it (Psalm 146:3-4). There’s no salvation in it. Elections are part of God’s plan, but so are our everyday lives down to the minute details. Something that happened in your home today may be more important in eternity than the sum of what happened today in the halls of Congress, just as the faithful decisions of Abra(ha)m of Ur resound more thoroughly today than those of all the Mesopotamian rulers combined. Perhaps we are indeed missing Golgotha by focusing on Herod.

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