Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Doug Wilson's Letter From America

Kicking One of the Sacred Geese 

Political Dualism - Mere Christendom
Written by Douglas Wilson
Monday, August 30, 2010

It should not be surprising that after I have urged the establishment of a mere Christendom for some time, that questions about the First Amendment might arise. It would appear that I am tresspassing on the sacred precincts. It would seem that I am strolling across the manicured lawns of the Temple grounds, in order to have a better shot at kicking one of the sacred geese.

So perhaps I had better explain. My position on this can be summarized nicely and in brief compass. It is not the case that a mere Christendom would violate anything in the First Amendment, and the second point would be that, even if it did, we need Christ more than we need Madison.

But, on this point at least, we may certainly have both. The First Amendment, rightly understood, does not prohibit a civil acknowledgement of the Lordship of Jesus. It prohibits the establishment of a particular denomination of Christians at the federal level as the national church. It does not in any way prohibit, to take an example at random, the erecting of a Christmas creche on the steps of the Mugwump County Courthouse. Here's what the amendment says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Our concerns for the present have to do with the establishment clause and the free exercise clause. We may discuss what lawyers have done to mangle the rest of it some other time perhaps.

If you would be so kind, please note the first word of the First Amendment, which is Congress. Congress is the only entity which can violate the establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment, and they can do so in two ways. The first would be if they were to pass legislation that created the Church of the United States, as England has a Church of England and Denmark the Church of Denmark. The Founders did not do this because they objected to national churches, but rather because they objected to the idea that the United States was a nation.

We were, rather, a confederation of nations, meaning that any established religions needed to exist at the appropriate level, which was not the federal level. At that time, federal government and national government were not interchangeable synonyms. If you take the trouble to read The Federalist Papers, a collection of newspaper articles urging ratification of the Constitution, you will discover one of their points to be the fact that those urging ratification disavowed the idea that the Constitution was in any way creating a nation. And this is why, incidentally, Lincoln's phrase in the Gettysburg Address -- "four score and seven years ago, our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new nation" -- was such a masterpiece of revisionist history.

The second way Congress could violate this part of the First Amendment would be if they interfered with the free exercise of religion, as practiced by any other entity that is not the Congress. Thus far, Congress has not violated the establishment clause, unless you want to count the IRS, but they have specialized in crude and repeated violations of the free exercise clause. Free exercise of religion is rapidly coming to mean that you can still believe whatever you want behind your eyes and between your ears, just so long as you do not try to exercise your religion freely, out in public where people can see you. This is not unlike the modern legal theory, with regard to one amendment down, that argues that the right to keep and bear arms means that you don't really have the right to keep and bear arms. It is hard to get your mind around such legal suppleness, and a minimum of three years in an accredited law school is usually required.

When the Constitution was adopted, 9 of the 13 colonies had established religions at the state level. The longest surviving of these was the Congregational Church in Connecticut, which was supported by that state down into the 1830's. But the point is not that we have such established state religions now. The point is rather a principled one, demonstrating with unarguable clarity what the original intent was. The federal government did not require the states to maintain an established church, but it most certainly permitted it, and did so expressly. Alabama could be officially Baptist, Connecticut Congregational, and Virginia Episcopal, and nothing about such an arrangement would be a violation of the First Amendment as originally conceived. At this point, compare the First Amendment and the Tenth Amendment. What Congress could not do, e.g. establish the Presbyterian Church, any one of the states most certainly could do.

All the states could pick different state flowers and the national government could pick a national flower, and no great conflict ensue. We could do the same with state birds, and adopt the bald eagle as the national bird, and it would cause no great consternation. But to have different state religions, and one national religion over them all is just asking for trouble. The founders were not stupid men, and so they decided to not go there.

In fact, this original understanding of the First Amendment provides us with a model of mere Christendom. The principle of organization between different Christian states need not take a stand on the denominational questions that divide the states from one another. That is what I am arguing for. This is the pattern for mere Christendom. But this cannot be done, let it be said in passing, if Michigan were under Islamic Sharia law and South Dakota under Lutheranism. Religiousdom does not provide a principle of unity at all. Christ does.

So what went wrong? As a result of the War Between the States, and subsequent interpretations of the Fourteenth Amendment, the position and role of the Bill of Rights was entirely reversed. It was decided that what the federal government previously could not do, as prevented by jealous state governments, the state governments now could not do, as prevented by the overweening and ravenous federal government. We used to be protected from the federal government by the states, and now we are "protected" from the states by the feds. And thus it came about that the function of the Bill of Rights, which was to guard us against an out-of-control central government, went by the wayside.

This reversal tells you everything you need to know about how it came about that our government no longer requires the consent of the governed in order to function. This reversal tells you everything you need to know about how the list of grievances that the Government needs to be willing to redress, as described later in the First Amendment, is a list that is getting longer by the minute.

The Fracturing of the Modern Mind

Polytheism Returns With a Vengeance

In C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters, which I first read as a child, I remember a passage where Screwtape, a senior devil, writes to his nephew, a junior devil called Wormwood, about the mental condition of modern human beings. “Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn't think of doctrines as primarily 'true' or 'false', but as 'academic' or 'practical', 'outworn' or 'contemporary', 'conventional' or 'ruthless'. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally . . .”

As an adult, not to mention a professor of literature concerned with modern intellectual history, I have long been uncomfortably aware that Screwtape was guilty of gravely understating his case. He was by no means the first, and was certainly not the last to notice that we live in a culture dominated by stereotypes, illusions, copies, imitations, sound-bites and fantasies. Not merely do our clich├ęd labels invoke ready-made emotions, but also most contemporary humans have many more than half a dozen incompatible ideas floating around inside their heads. Moreover, . . . their incompatibility is not simply a matter of different beliefs or even just of jargon.

Stephen Prickett, Narrative, Religion and Science: Fundamentalism versus Irony 1700-1999 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 5.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Towards a Recovery of Biblical Worship, Part I

Worship Acceptable to Man

One of the more vexing current issues faced by the Christian church is the demotion of public worship—and, therefore, of worship per se. It has become little more than an optional extra in the minds of many contemporary Christians. 

There are a number of confluent currents causing this problem. The first is the general attitude of our culture. Egalitarianism does not encourage reverent and holy worship. Our age is pervasively informal. “Gidday, mate” is more than just a greeting—it is an icon of our culture. There has been a great loss of the Scriptural concept of superiors and inferiors, of culture reflecting a godly hierarchy. Even as we write these words we imagine bile rising in the throats of many at the mere mention of superiors and inferiors.

New Zealanders pride themselves on our culture of easy egalitarian informality. Many of our political leaders, for example, consciously cultivate “mateship” with the electorate, of being seen as a good bloke (or “blokesse”, as the case may be). This is certainly the case with the current incumbent Prime Minister who has artfully (and genuinely, one presumes) presented himself as a good guy who would be comfortable chatting over the backyard fence with anyone. New Zealanders like that. When political leaders are more removed and reserved they risk being quickly accused of arrogance and pomposity.

It is only on formal state occasions or before the courts, where we are confronted with notions such as contempt of court, that we are jolted with a gulf between superiors and inferiors.

In such a culture, the church has easily slid into a “mateship” towards God, so that many view the public worship of God as an occasion when we say, “Gidday” to God. Public worship for many has become informal, relaxed, laid-back, casual, entertaining, and comfortable. Unfortunately, because of the high value placed upon egalitarianism in our culture, many equate such a relaxed and informal approach to public worship with truth, genuineness, and glory. More formal, hierarchical, structured and liturgical worship is regarded as not genuine, cold, formal, and removed from God. Formal worship is regarded as antithetical to true worship from the heart.

Now this dichotomy comes straight out of our culture, not out of scripture. To that extent we may say that the modern church has become squeezed into the modern world's mould.

A second current undermining true, biblical worship is a persistent and incipient neo-platonising of the Christian faith. Here we are faced with the (false) notion that the material and the outward, tangible components or aspects of life are of secondary importance. It is easy to understand how this idea has crept into the Church. Clearly God is a pure Spirit, without body, parts, or material composition. Yet He is most real; actually, infinitely real. It has been easy, therefore, to slip into the trap of thinking that truth, purity, holiness, and the heavenly realities are that which are inward, mental, attitudinal, while the physical and material aspects of reality can be shuffled off like the chrysalis of a butterfly. In fact, many Christians have become so infected with these pagan neo-platonic notions that they think that it is not until the chrysalis of the flesh and of matter is shed that the true spiritual realities can emerge.

This has encouraged the idea that when it comes to worship, outward, tangible realities are relatively unimportant.  How we conduct ourselves, or how worship is conducted is seen as immaterial: that matters is the heart and inward realities of the worshipper.  After all, it is man who looks on the outward appearance, and God alone who looks on the heart.  And it is the heart of a man where the action is.  

Clearly, a moment's reflection will confirm that setting off the material aspects of humanity from what it truly means to be human and what it truly means to be one with God (that is, the more “out-of-body we are, the closer to God) is completely wrong. After all, to redeem man, Christ took on human flesh and the material aspects of humanity; He rose bodily and is enthroned as Lord of the heavens and the earth bodily and materially; He will return to dwell upon earth forever bodily and materially. Therefore, because we are united to Christ in a resurrection like His (Romans 6:5), we too will rise and live throughout eternity in bodily form. In other words, Christ redeems and restores in holy perfection all aspects of His creation—both the material and the immaterial aspects of humanity.  Both alike were created by God.  Both alike were declared to be very good by the Creator.  When Christ redeems us, He redeems and restores all of us, not just part of us.  As one theologian put it, grace restores nature; it does not bisect it and cut the material parts off. 

Thus we are to live and worship in body, as well as in mind, soul, heart, intellect and emotions. Consequently, worship in this life (and in eternity) has both material and immaterial aspects—all are to be engaged and involved in worship. This is reinforced by extensive citations in the Scripture to bodily attitude and posture in worship: kneeling, standing, bowing, lifting eyes to heaven, and prostrating. Worship also requires the exercise of the vocal chords in confessing, reciting, reading aloud and singing. Public worship requires that these things be done together and in unison (II Chronicles 5: 12—13) so that there is one unified, harmonious sound (which of course requires hard work, practice, planning, organization, leadership, direction, etc.)

Thus, structure, planning, organization—leading to physical and material engagement with our bodies—is an essential and intrinsic part of public worship, so that the physical and material aspects are as spiritual as the mental and intellectual and emotional and volitional. Because human beings are not dualistic or tripartistic schizoid beings, all these aspects are to work together in harmonious unity by God's creation and command.

Neo-platonic, pagan thought has led many Christians to devalue or disregard entirely all these important aspects of true worship.We cannot move closer to biblical worship without dumping these pagan  accretions. 

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

Very Little Stones

Political Dualism - Mere Christendom
Written by Douglas Wilson
Tuesday, August 24, 2010

So I have said more than once that secularism is on its last legs. Where do I get off saying that? Why that pronouncement?

There are a number of ways this argument can be made, but allow me to point to just a couple. These indicators are not my own private claim to be able to see the future, as though I had a crystal ball, but rather indicate which way I see certain important currents running. The things I am pointing to do not seem to me to be disputable, and it also seems obvious to me that they are highly significant.

First, the anemic response of the secularists to the idea of sharia law has been quite striking. For example, consider the various accommodations to forms of sharia law that have been made around Europe. And through recent years, when that has been pointed out here, the laughter and the poopooing has been quite patronizing. "That couldn't happen here, you boob." And then this imam, at Ground Zero no less, pops up and wants to put a mosque there, and does so as an advocate of sharia law.

Now I know there is sharia law and there is sharia law. There is the chopping off of hands and death by stoning, on the one hand, and spiritiual jihad against eating too much cheesecake on the other. Given how human beings generally spread themselves out across a range of opinions, it is not surprising that some advocates of sharia law are not as whackadoodle as others. But this distinction is one that secularism, back in its robust and virulent phases, would have been incapable of making. This is the kind of distinction that secularism can make because it is in the process of unraveling.

Think back to the days of the Christian Reconstructionists. Think of Ezekiel One-Tooth, living on his theonomic compound somewhere in the Ozarks, unbending a little, in order to argue that the biblical requirement of death by stoning could actually be met by a firing squad, for what are bullets, he asks, but "very little stones?" Meets the requirement, he says. And then put alongside him a moderate theonomist, a scholar and careful thinker like Bahnsen, say. Do you think that as many secularists would be rushing to praise the "moderation" of Bahnsen the way they are defending this particular imam? To ask the question is to answer it. No, what is happening is that self-confidence is draining clear out of secularism, as can be seen in their inability to take a clear, public stand against the encroachments of militant Islam. The pathetic European attempts to dab around the edges of this problem, by trying to ban burkas, for example, are a day late and a Euro short.

The second reason I would like to offer for considering secularism a spent force is that the devil is moving from opposing Christendom across the board to a more nuanced stance of supporting and advancing some forms of it. This will require greater development, but here is the outline of it.

When the Church crosses the boarder between "outside and persecuted" to "inside and influential," that border crossing does not mean that the devil has gone into retirement. He does whatever he can to prevent the formation of Christendom in the first place, but then, when it looks as though we are going to get ourselves a Christendom regardless, he is concerned to manage what kind of Christendom we get. It was altogether a good thing that Constantine converted, and there was nothing bad about how the persecutions of the Church ceased. Three cheers for all of it. But the spiritual war continued on, unabated.

Anybody who thinks that the apostle Paul would have had us put up a big "mission accomplished" sign at that point is seriously mistaken. Once we have Christendom, which the devil opposed, are there forms of it that provide him with a great deal of scope to continue his work? You bet.

And I have seen, in recent years, arguments from Christian scholars that, if adopted in the context of a renewed Christendom, would present a really big problem. In fact, they would be a problem in just the same area where people have accused Constantine. The idea is that Constantine wanted something to prop up the existing order, and not something that would transform the existing order. Leave aside for the moment whether the accusation against Constantine is true. It is a plausible accusation nonetheless. "Let's get Jesus to help us to succeed in what we were already trying to do." In a similar way, those Christian thinkers who want the lordship of Jesus Christ acknowledged in public affairs coupled with a continuation of soft socialism (e.g. Wright, Cavanaugh) are wanting something that cannot be. And when they get the former, what they want with regard to the latter will be completely undone. For someone like Eusebius, someone like James Madison turns out to be something of a let down. Oh, well, I would say.

Another area of danger is found in those who urge an accommodation between postmodernism and the Christian ideal of community (e.g. James K.A. Smith). Leave aside for the moment that no one is really postmodern if they are not postDarwinian . . . more like Henry Morris than Brian McLaren. What is passing for postmodern these days is simply a rearguard action, trying to preserve certain customs in "our faith community." Which is not what Jesus told us to do. Jesus, if you recall, told us to go out into all the world in order to impose our metanarrative on all those other little, unbelieving narratives, and to do so in quite a triumphalistic fashion.

Just-So Stories

Fragmentation and Fictional Narratives

Is it any wonder that modern science has turned to power-politics and the sanction of the State in an endeavour to establish its credibility?
We live in a society inundated by self-confessed story-tellers. Whereas 100, or even 50 years ago those who told the grand narratives about the world—scientists, historians and theologians—were anxious to impress us with the accuracy and authority of their knowledge, today they seem to be clamouring to be recognized as something nearer to that of village elders, the story-tellers of the tribe.

Physics, declared Niels Bohr, father of the “Copenhagen” interpretation of quantum theory in the 1920's and 1930's tells us not about what is but what we can say to each other concerning the world. There is no “scientific method” writes Jean-Francois Lyotard, a scientist (sic) is before anything else a person “who tells stories”. This description of the scientists is echoed by John Gribbin, the physics writer, who recently commented at the end of a lengthy discussion of quantum theory, “I do not claim that it is anything more than just a fiction; all scientific models are simply Kiplingesque 'just so' stories that give us a feeling that we understand what is going on.”

Startling as this might seem to the non-scientist, within their profession such views from Bohr or Gribbin are no longer controversial. Gribbin seems in fact, consciously or unconsciously, to be echoing the American biologist Stephen Jay Gould, who had used precisely the same phrase, “just-so stories”--but without mentioning Kipling—in an essay in 1991. Science, Gould claimed, was best thought of as a series of interpretative or “adaptive stories” to explain certain phenomena.

Stephen Prickett, Narrative, Religion and Science: Fundamentalism versus Irony 1700-1999 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 2.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

As Sort of a Globo-Joke

Political Dualism - Mere Christendom
Written by Douglas Wilson
Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The attendance of Constantine at the Council of Nicea was striking, but more striking than that was the existence of such a subversive council in the first place, and with an emperor's knowledge and blessing. More about that in a moment.

It is often said that in his conversion Constantine was only seeking a unifying principle for his sprawling empire, and that his faith in Christ was not sincere. In some respects, whether or not his faith was sincere is beside the point, but I concur with Leithart that it was genuine. But what makes us think that the two motives are inconsistent? A man might come to Christ because he wants to save his marriage, but this does not make him a hypocrite.

So suppose for a moment that Constantine was not sincere. Why would such a man be tempted to turn to the Christians?

Another commonplace with regard to Constantine is that he was freaked out by the Arian controversy because it threatened to undo his realpolitik principle of unity right after he had adopted it. Right after he bet the imperial farm on the Christian horse, that horse got the staggers.

But why would Constantine have seen the Church as a principle of unity in the first place? The unity displayed by the Church, in the simple fact of such councils, was something that the ancient church had not really seen before. It was a new thing in the world. Rome had its Senate, but that was local, for the Romans. The Romans in turn ruled the world, but they did so in true top down fashion. The traffic flow of authority went outward from Rome. In the church councils, you see the development of a recognizable, universal representative form of decision making. It dealt with the things of God, true enough, but this was a senate gathered from over a huge geographical area. 

So the Christians were not supplying something that the pagan religions had previously supplied, back before their sacrificial fires became impotent. The Christians brought something new. That idea was a visible demonstration of what true representative unity might look like. There is something enormously attractive to everyone in this. We see a secularist (and grotesque) parody of the idea in the United Nations. Whenever worldlings try to produce the fruit of faith on their own, without Jesus, the result is that Iran gets a seat on the body safeguarding women's rights, and the Chicoms get to weigh in on the importance of human rights. The result, in short, is a sort of globo-joke. In other words, without Jesus, fuhgedaboudit.

The fact remains that the thing that Constantine saw was altogether lovely. "My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth, and mine arms shall judge the people; the isles shall wait upon me, and on mine arm shall they trust" (Is. 51:5). But in fact, it was the kind of loveliness that cannot be sustained for more than five minutes without Jesus Christ.

What Constantine saw was just a glimpse, a foretaste. It was a cloud the size of a man's fist. The prophet's words are being fulfilled, but they are not entirely fulfilled yet. We still await the latter rains -- which are coming.

Australia's Next Government

The Mad Monk or the Doctrinaire Lefty

Australia has a hung Parliament. The first in seventy years. For those foolish or masochistic enough to follow politics, the next few days, even weeks, are likely to be more entertaining than normal. As in the UK, there will be those repetitive “can they, will they, won't they” rumours and reports about whether Labour or the Liberal coalition forming the next government.

We are not in the predicting business, we will make a tentative guess that the Liberal Coalition will be successful. It seems that the independent MP's are pretty regionally and electorally focused: their concerns are what “goodies” they can secure for their parochial responsibilities. They do not at all seem to be consumed with a “grand vision” for Australia. They are more pragmatic than ideological. Their wider concerns seem to be with holding the respective parties to their stated promises, rather than extracting new or different commitments from them. All of which seems pretty reasonable.

The question will then turn around which of the two major parties, Liberal Coalition or Labour will be their preferred party. It is clear that the Labour Party has made a right royal stuff up of things—undermining Parliamentary process and conventions, swaggering about like slaves who have become kings, foolishly confusing reckless spending on a rapidly expanding bureaucracy with “reform”, and yet all the while riven with factional infighting. Julia Gillard, against this backdrop, must appear weak and ineffectual, unlikely to form a government an independent would prefer to tie up with. There already rumours swirling, we understand, that she will be dumped, even if successful in forming a new government. And then there is the fact of an electoral swing away from Labour towards the Coalition. It would be a bold Independent MP which would blithely ignore that electoral reality and return Labour to government in the face of a soured electorate.

Still, stranger things have happened.

Some soft-despotic commentators are seeing darker days ahead for Australia, regardless of which of the two larger parties forms a government. Governing as a minority government will mean that the government itself is likely to be weak. It will not be able to make “big bold moves”, which allegedly are required in these times of economic turpitude. Our view is that weak governments are often the very best. As long as they focus upon the basics like law and order, justice and crime, and defence—which are the core biblical responsibilities of the civil magistrates as God's servant—then the law of unintended, bad consequences will come into play less often. Therefore, as Christians we are far more inclined to celebrate a weak government.

It is when government gets out of the way and by means of (deliberate or unintended) neglect force people to take more responsibility for their own lives, families, extended families and friends that economic revitalization is far more likely to occur at the micro-level. For our part, we would suggest that a weak minority government in Australia may be a very good thing.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

And You Get What You Pay For

Who Is Sufficient?
Written by Douglas Wilson
Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"But especially now, under the gospel, the ministerial calling is poorly provided for, even although it deserves to be rewarded most of all. Certainly it would be an honourable Christian policy to make at least good provision for this calling, so that men of the worthiest gifts might be won for it. The lack of such provision is the reason why so many young men with unusual ability and great prospects turn to other vocations, especially law. That is where most of the sharpest minds in our nation are employed. Why? Because in legal practice they have all the means for their advance, whereas the ministry, generally speaking, yields nothing but a clear road to poverty" (Perkins, The Art of Prophesying, p. 95).

Tenants in Our Own Country, Part II

We Became Serfs A Long Time Ago

Prime Minister, John Key has said that he would hate to see a day when New Zealanders were little more than tenants in their own country. This remark was made in relation to the spectral prospect of large swathes of productive countryside being bought by Chinese investors. For most Kiwis, this is chilling.

But why? We view it as a rational outcome to be expected. In fact, it would be surprising were it not to happen. After all, New Zealand is a soft-despotic socialist country. For generations it has prided itself on being “progressive” in the sense of government intrusions to achieve an egalitarian materialistic paradise.A   former Prime Minister, David Lange once infamously said that he would prefer a society where the gap between rich and poor were more narrow than one in which there was a wider gap, but the poor were better off than they are today. No doubt he thought the former more “just”.

The problem with soft-despotic socialism is that eventually, like all forms of socialism, it runs out of other people's money. This is certainly the case now with New Zealand. So, naturally, since society has plundered the cupboard to the extent that it is now bare, the government needs to look elsewhere for fresh pockets to pick. We are now in phase two of terminal socialist decline. Phase two involves borrowing. There are insufficient monies raised from taxes—so, now we are borrowing $250million dollars a week to fund the socialist beast. Not wanting to stir the beast to anger, the government has been unwilling to cut spending and entitlements. But it also knows that it cannot raise taxes. So, borrow. This simply rolls the burden onto our children. It is robbing baby Peter to pay indulgent Paul, his parent.

There are other characteristics of phase two decline. One is a championing of immigration. Soft-despotic socialism reinforces a culture of self-indulgence and entitlement. Populations do not tend to grow under socialism. The more self-reliant and ambitious depart for other jurisdictions. Those that remain want their piece of cake—and having children requires self-denial in order to achieve longer term wealth and blessedness. Children are an interference to achieving the soft-despotic socialist paradise. Immigration becomes the easy answer. There is a gaggle of short-sighted economists who argue for increased immigration as the way to keep our economy expanding and growing. “Others” has long been the socialist mantra.

The government is openly acknowledging that not only do we need immigrants to keep us afloat, we also need foreigners to invest in New Zealand. We need a new phalanx of “other people's money” to fund our way. Ah, but we must be careful, says our Prime Minister. This could be a double edged sword—we do not want to end up as tenants in our own country.

This is truly a “wake up and smell the roses” moment—or more aptly, a “wake up and smell the rotting garbage” moment. We in New Zealand have been tenants in our own country for a long, long time. It is the inevitable outcome of soft-despotic socialism. Consider the matter of land and land ownership. The vast majority of New Zealand land is owned (via one agency or another) by the State. This places the people in a comparable situation to serfs in the Middle Ages. In addition, Maori complain about their relative impoverishment—yet vast swathes of land in New Zealand are owned by Maori tribes and individual Maori are unable to get fee simple titles over the land. It is owned by the collective, which means that individual Maori are nothing more than tenants—and never will be anything more--at least as long as they look to "their" land as a way to earn a personal living. (Once again, the more ambitious and energetic Maori have tended to migrate offshore to get ahead.) Maori concepts of land ownership are a primitive form of socialism, but socialism nonetheless. It has reduced Maoridom to a state of perpetual tenancy—as socialism always does.

Then, consider how an economy of perpetual tenancy has gradually extended by means of a gradual erosion of private property rights. The State has expropriated title to all minerals beneath the surface of all land. By means of the Resource Management Act and its notification and consent processes, it has land owners more like serfs and tenants than owners. The amount of economic development stifled and stymied by self-righteous greenists and nosy neighbours under the aegis of the Resource Management Act and its application by local body governments is incalculable.

In the light of this, what's the problem with a few foreigners coming in to buy up some dairy farms? We have already all been reduced to a state of semi-serfdom in our own country. It is not that this can be reversed. Not without repudiating the soft-despotic socialist doctrines which have produced it. But socialism will not be repudiated without a religious change—a change that begins in the hearts of men and women as they turn away from the idolatry of regarding the government as their god—and look, once again, to the God of their fathers.

In the days of our Lord, the people were under the oppressive burden of pharisaism. It was a kind of “enserfment” of Israel, where people were constrained by a thousand endless rules and regulations telling them how to live and what could not be done with their property and lives. It was in this context that Jesus said, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.” (Matthew 11: 28—30)

New Zealanders will increasingly become enslaved tenants in their own country until it dawns upon us that the yoke of soft-despotic socialism is an unbearable burden. Then, if it pleases the Lord, we will be made to understand that the yoke of our Lord in comparison is easy, light, and life-giving. Then, if the Lord has mercy, we may hear afresh His gracious invitation to come to Him, that we might be released from our serfdom and slavery. In that day it will be as if, once again, we have come out of Egypt. And we will sing, as one awakened out of a dark dream into the sunlight, “I greet Thee, Who my sure Redeemer art”.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

This Approach, Wise I Don't Think

Political Dualism - Mere Christendom
Written by Douglas Wilson
Wednesday, August 04, 2010

I like Hugh Hewitt. I have enjoyed one of his books, and his web site is a good go-to place for a discussion of some of the nuts and bolts of the political battles we are in. He does good work.

But . . .

But here is an example of why my concerns (expressed repeatedly) about American exceptionalism and Christian refusals to acknowledge Christ in the public square are not concerns about a bunch of nothing. In a recent post explaining why he is opposed to the building of the Cordoba Mosque near Ground Zero, Hewitt said some things that make it obvious why the apostle John had to warn Christians to keep themselves from idols (1 Jn. 5:21). John had to warn us because it is a thing that Christians might not want to avoid.

As an aside, before proceeding to the argument, for those who don't know, Cordoba is a Middle Eastern word meaning "here's a burnt stick in your eye."

Hewitt said that he does "not believe the Ground Zero mosque should be built." The emphasis following is mine.

"I oppose it because the land and buildings damaged by the assault are now part of the sacred space of America's great civic religion. I would oppose the construction of any sectarian project there that wasn't a rebuild of an existing sectarian use for the same reason.

There is no formal designation for the sacred spaces of America's civic religion though they extend from the Mall to the Arizona Memorial. The land around Ground Zero is very much part of that space, and any project that politicizes it or brings a religious purpose to those sites should be refused."

There are three basic problems here, and they are really basic problems.

The first is that a conservative Christian is using words and phrases like sacred space and religion, without scare quotes, in order to describe spaces and a religion that are not Christian. And he is not describing them as sacred to the use and understanding of others, but sacred to us, as Americans. This means that he is saying that American Christians can lawfully belong to two religions, one civil and one up in the sky somehow. American Christians can worship in two different kinds of sacred spaces, one in which God is triune, and in the other where he isn't anything of the kind. It also means that patriotic Americans who are not Christian have an area of "worship overlap" with those who are Christian. We share sacred space, as sacred space, with people who don't love Jesus. The question really ought to arise -- how did we get here?

This is the sort of thing that gives theologians like Yoda plausibility. This is the kind of that makes you want to cite Yoda about the dangers of Constantinianism. "Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will." Yoda, Yoder, whatever. This is the kind of political analysis that a freshman in the Eusebian School of Panegyrics might have written for his first homework assignment, late in the evening and after a couple of beers.

The second problem is that to recenter America's public space like this means that manifestations of the Christian faith become "sectarian" with reference to it. And this is precisely how Hewitt argues. This mosque and Tim Keller's church in Manhattan are both "sectarian" in reference to this new sacred space. The fact that one does not worship the true God and the other does is irrelevant to this relativization. This space is now sacred because it is the place where some terrorists blew themselves to Hell, and so ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ must consider themselves to be outside that Established Church. All Christians, who worship the God who made Heaven and earth, and who worship God through His true and only Son, are placed by a Christian political thinker on the same footing as Melanesian frog worshippers. We, and they, are Dissenters when it comes to this American sacred space. Well, we are Dissenters only if we dissent -- which consistent Christians must do.

The third problem is that no idolatry can be internally self-consistent, and so a weird contradiction appears immediately. Hewitt objects to any project that "politicizes" this sacred space, but all we have are politics down here now. The sacred space was formed by a political, terrorist act, and it was defended by those who were defending a particular political order. How can we object to the politicization of politics? This is all happening in the earthly city, in the polis. If this polis is being lifted up above the roil and rack of earthly commotions, then it has to be done arbitrarily, like the apotheosis of some dying Caesar, coughing up blood. Even Vespasian knew better than this with his famous last words -- Vae, puto deus fio. "Dear me, I must be turning into a god..."

Nature is not the only thing that abhors a vacuum. Religion abhors a vacuum. If you banish all religious trappings from the public square, all you have done is swept and garnished the room in preparation for the new, seven-fold religion that is now on your doorstep, with the creepy music playing in the background. And this is why exorcists who have no gospel are just an advance team for more demons. This is why R2K theologians are not doing what they think they are doing.

God has placed eternity in our hearts, and we behave like religious beings (because we must) wherever we go, and whatever we do. This is why Christian ministers must proclaim the crown rights of King Jesus everywhere, and over everything. All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to Him, and this means that Jesus Christ owns Lower Manhattan, having purchased it with His precious blood. No other blood can be allowed to trump this, or compete with it, not even the blood of courageous firemen. We cannot give "this part" to Jesus and the remainder to nobody in particular, or to Mr. Neutrality. All attempts to "divvy up" are simply negotiations with idols. But we are Christians and are not allowed to parlay with idols.

Given what has gone before, Hugh Hewitt is simply being consistent in his use of words like sacred and religious. But it is a consistency we must turn back from. In order to do this, we have to reject Americanism, an ism every bit as ugly as all the other isms out there. I give way to no one in my love for my country, my nation, and my people. But it is a nation, for pity's sake, not a god. It is a country, a fine place to shoot off firecrackers on the Fourth, and to eat hot dogs. But if you want me to trot out divine honors along with the flag, then my response will be a thoroughly American one. "What, are you nuts?"

Tenants in Our Own Country, Part I

Foreigners and Serfs

A populist debate has burst forth again on the dangers of selling our assets to “furrigners”—by which, it would seem, we mean Asians, and particularly Chinese, who seem to have more money than most these days. At least they have more money than high consumption, high spending, high indebted Kiwis.

Our Prime Minister, John Key, whilst acknowledging that our economy is dead in the water if fails to attract and welcome overseas investment into this country, has hit a very responsive nerve when he expressed discomfort with the notion that we New Zealand citizens risk ending up as little more than “tenants in our own country”. The spectre is that Chinese investors will buy up the majority of our dairy farms, and we, citizens in our own country, will be consigned to working for foreign landlords. Moreover, the earnings from those dairy farms will merrily trot off overseas and the New Zealand will devolve into a peasant economy and its citizens into serfs.

This is a spectral prospect indeed. It is not hard to understand why New Zealanders recoil from it. Nor is it hard to understand the Prime Minister's concern. But before we race off to Wellington to pass a few more ad hoc restrictions and regulations, let's pause to think through the wider issues.

Firstly, what we are seeing here is but a symptom of a wider and deeper problem. Beware the snake-oiler treating symptoms but ignoring causes. Why is there not enough capital owned by Kiwi citizens available to invest in dairy farms and milk-processing businesses? There are at least two possible reasons.

In the first place, the price of dairy farms may be way-too-high. If this is the case, overseas investors are coming in as “bigger fools” to purchase inflated assets. Unable to pack up the land into wheel barrows and repatriate it, they will end up on-selling it when it dawns on them that their capital is unproductive because they overpaid. In the meantime, the Kiwi-money is the smart-money, not willing to pay inflated prices for dairy farms.

There is a lot of historical evidence for this being close to the truth. Most dairy farms in New Zealand have returned far less on invested capital than could be earned in relatively risk-free ten year government bonds. Yet, this has not troubled aspiring and expanding dairy farmers in the past. Many enjoy the rural lifestyle and thus receive intangible value way and above their after-tax return on invested capital. (Ironically, they would still enjoy this as tenants on a foreign owned dairy farm, for far less capital outlay.) Moreover, dairy farmers have always born in mind the terminal value of their business—the amount of capital they will receive when they on-sell their farms and retire. Here, they rely upon the existence of an even “bigger fool” to come and pay them an even more inflated price for their farm.

To the extent that current dairy farm prices are based upon expected terminal values, which in turn rely upon the bigger fool coming forth, the sector itself is arguably a speculative pyramid which will eventually collapse back down to more realistic economic values. The appropriate response would be--if this were the reason Kiwis are unwilling to buy up farms like the Crafar conglomerate--would be to take the foreign money and run.

The second possibility is we do not have enough Kiwi capital investing in dairy farms because we do not have enough capital, period. Let us assume that the prices being sought by vendors are economically rational and are at fair market. New Zealanders are maxed out on debt, having spent up large on consumption extravaganzas and there just aren't sufficient capitalized people left able to invest in dairy.

This explanation quickly morphs into concerns about our lack of savings—and, inevitably, to considerations about how to increase our savings levels. On cue, and inevitably, the eyes of Unbelievers begin to lift in supplication to Wellington. The Government must do something. Compelling people to save is once again upon the table. Something must be done to lift our woeful saving rate! Government must do it! Government is our god, and by that god, the government must be what it is.

We acknowledge that there is a certain perverse logic to this. After all, why would any intelligent, rational Kiwi save for the long term? The government hands out, ostensibly free of charge, one of the most generous taxpayer funded retirement incomes to everyone over 65 in the world. On top of that, the state funds healthcare. In addition, all kinds of emergency grants from the state are available to anyone caught in a spot of impecuniousness. Why bother saving? Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow our government will take care of us is the credo of our age.

Of course, when you actually “get there” you find that the great socialist paradise is hardly that. Socialised health care is strictly rationed; waiting lists are long; less-terminal ailments can reduce someone to a life of constant pain—even agony. Moreover, unless you have a mortgage free house and are prepared to live very simply, New Zealand tax payer funded superannuation is hardly adequate. But the widespread perception is that the socialist paradise for the aged really does exist. And it is a myth which successive governments are more than willing to perpetuate. So, why bother denying oneself now, in order to save for the future?

One obvious solution to increase our savings rate would be to cut current and future government entitlements. It is abundantly clear that those developing countries in Asia which have low social welfare entitlements are also those with rapid and growing capital formation due to high savings rates. Whilst there are doubtless other factors involved, the brute reality that it is family-or-nothing provides a powerful motivation to save.

But such a solution in New Zealand would be electoral suicide—as we have seen repeatedly. Any government that has moved to cut entitlements has unleashed a torrent of anger and vituperation that has consigned the guilty politicians and parties to a wasteland of ignominy for a very long time. Thus, the next solution, is to keep the entitlements in place, but increase government's control and intrusion by making personal long-term saving compulsory. Of course this will inevitably come in New Zealand, as long as men continue to look to government as their providential provider and their god. Without a revival of true Christian faith in the hearts of the people, there is only one direction to our drift into soft-despotism. That lady is definitely not for turning.

But here is the rub. The Prime Minister has said he would not like to see the day New Zealanders are reduced to being tenants in their own country. But, in fact, that happened a long time ago, as our next piece will argue. With respect to foreigners buying dairy farms, we are only facing just one more manifestation of New Zealanders being reduced to the status of being tenants in their own country.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

A Shoe Box in the Attic

Political Dualism - Mere Christendom
Written by Douglas Wilson
Tuesday, August 03, 2010

In the previous mere Christendom thread, an important question was asked about my willingness to work together with secularist conservatives in pursuit of shared "common sense" goals. And the answer is that I would be fully willing, sure -- if the secularists get spooked at the size of the national deficit, and turn off the spigot, they can count on my support. And if the Mormons in southern Idaho got a pro-life referendum on the ballot, I would cheerfully vote for it. That part of life is simple. Allies, cobelligerents, all that.

The complicating factor is that of oaths, and the rendering of unlawful allegiances as the price of admission to their game. One of the myths that has been spread about religious conservatives is that they don't know how to bend or compromise (this being the supposed source of their propensity to violence), and the corresponding myth on the other side is that secularists are calm, cool, and collected, and ever ready to make adjustments as the demands of the present reality dictate.

But our secularists are actually hard line sectarians. They will brook no compromise on these issues. We do not have a parliamentary system, where a secularist party can form a coalition with ultraconservatives with funny hats. We have a winner-take-all system, and the absolute demand that secularists place on religious conservatives is a demand of stated allegiance to the secularist arrangement. They make us take these oaths so many times and in so many ways that we scarcely notice them anymore.

Say that a controversy arises over a cross in a county seal, or a Christmas tree on the county courthouse steps. The conservative secularists will bend far enough as to say that the cross or tree should be allowed to stay, just so long as everybody involved in the support of such symbols promises that they don't mean anything by it. If there were any indication that these religious symbols were being taken seriously, the whole coalition would blow apart. They will allow us certain things for the sake of our nostalgia, but nothing else. As we move to their secularist paradise across the ocean, they will allow us to take a few trinkets to remember the old country by, and they do this because they know those trinkets are going to wind up in a shoebox in the attic.

All I am saying is that while I am willing to work with them, I will not do so on their terms, and I won't take any of their oaths. Jesus is Lord, and I want Him to be acknowledged as such everywhere and by everybody. They have no response to this other than to accuse me of being an extreme member of Reformed Taliban, eager to start setting IEDs by the side of Highway 95. These guys are a hoot. But I am a Burkean conservative, and don't want to achieve any of my socio-political goals by revolutionary means. The church, Christopher Dawson wrote, lives in the light of eternity, and can afford to be patient.

But the church also lives in the light of the holiness of God, and cannot afford to be dishonest.

The issue cannot be avoided, because every time a relevant controversy arises, the accusations of church and state relations arise. If some secularist politico sap forgets himself, and prays at some event in Jesus' name, the cry goes up. "Constantinianism! How dare he!" All I am saying is that such a moment is supposed to be our cue to rush in there, saying, no, no, nothing of the kind, and that we should simply refuse to take our cue. See what happens. I can assure you that lots of interesting things will happen.

Meditation on the Text of the Week

I Believe in God the Father, Almighty

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power, and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and the earth is yours. Yours is the Kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head over all.
I Chronicles 29:11

It is not possible for fallen men, remaining in the thrall of sin, to believe in God. Not the true God, the only God, revealed in Scripture.

Now it is perfectly possible, even inevitable, for all men to believe in gods. These gods do not actually exist, but are human inventions representing speculations about how the universe works. Because man is both finite and frail he is driven to seek refuge in fictional constructions of reality to make the world a kinder and gentler place. All the gods of Unbelief are thus human constructed crutches.

From the ancient who invoked the gods to bring good fortune and sound crops to today's sophisticates who invoke impersonal forces of blind chance implacably configured to lift mankind into higher states of being, Unbelieving man seeks to re-interpret the world after himself. Man is the creator, the denier, the re-constructer of the deities. He is the measure of all things, and the gods are weighed and measured in his hands—which is to say, they are idle fabrications and lies.

No Unbeliever can confess and acknowledge the God revealed in the Scripture, without God first changing his heart. Only then will he confess God in truth. For the one true God is the Almighty.

It is this attribute of God—His infinite and total power—which is so offensive to fallen man. It is this attribute which he cannot and will not acknowledge without first being born again by the Spirit of God. For to acknowledge truthfully that God is indeed Almighty is to surrender in body, mind, and soul to Him. One cannot believe in such a universal absolute Being without confessing and acknowledging His dominion over one's own life. That fallen man cannot do this of himself is obvious. Sin always insists on “wriggle room” when it comes to thinking about God.

It is not surprising then, that the Christian Church, by constrast, has always confessed that it believes in “God the Father, Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” The ancient Christian church also likewise confessed. So, David in our text, prays to God during the convocation of all Israel to commit to the building of the temple after his death. “All that is in the heavens and earth is yours.” Period. No exceptions.

We are told that the universe continues to expand. At the frontiers of that expansion, every atom, every sub-atomic particle in all its movements and energies and existence is totally controlled by God. It belongs to God and answers utterly to God. It moves and has its being in God. And in our world—in the totality of its past, and the present in which we now live, and in the future to which God is taking it—the same is exhaustively true.

It is this attribute of God which is so offensive to Unbelief. But it is the attribute which gives such great comfort and hope and glory to the Believer. Life fundamentally becomes a celebration of the glory and majesty and victory of God. Everything has meaning and purpose. Nothing is without its place. All that is in the heavens and the earth—the entirety of everything—answers to our God and is for His glory and majesty.

For the Unbeliever this is minatory; a dire threat. For the Believer it is a great comfort. God must not acquit Himself and measure up before my requirements and standards, but I to Him and His. And He has sent His only begotten Son into the world to die and rise again in my place to ensure that this can and will be the case.

Truly, “yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power, and the glory and the victory and the majesty”.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

A Real Family

The Importance of Intergenerational Consciousness

"But by far the most important channel of transmission of culture remains the family: and when family life fails to play its part, we must expect our culture to deteriorate.  Now the family is an institution of which nearly everybody speaks well: but it is advisable to remember that this is a term that may vary in extension.  In the present age it means little more than the living members.  Even of living members, it is a rare exception when an advertisement depicts a large family of three generations: the usual family on the hoardings consists of two parents and one or two young children.  What is held up for admiration is not devotion to a family, but personal affection between the members of it: and the smaller the family the more easily can this personal affection be sentimentalised.  But when I speak of the family, I have in mind a bond which embraces a longer period of time than this: a piety towards the dead, however obscure, and a solicitude for the unborn, however remote.  

"Unless this reverence for past and future is cultivated in the home, it can never be more than a verbal convention in the community.  Such an interest in the past is different from the vanities and pretensions of genealogy; such a responsibility for the future is different from that of the builder of social programmes."   

T. S Eliot, Christianity and Culture, (London: Harcourt, Inc., 1948), p.116

The S-Files

Zero-Tolerance Works Here, Too

Contra Celsum is pleased to announce an S-Award for a West Auckland Intermediate School principal.

Here is the account, as reported in the NZ Herald:
A West Auckland principal is taking a zero-tolerance attitude to unruly students at his new school - and winning hearts and minds in the process.

Roy Lilley, who took over at Bruce McLaren Intermediate in Henderson in April, is cracking down on a range of schoolyard indiscretions such as verbal abuse and fighting.

His hardline policy has led to eight students being stood down in a week, but he makes no apologies, vowing not to tolerate bad behaviour of any kind.

One case ended up before the board of trustees, which ultimately suspended the student, and support agencies are now deciding the child's future.

None of the eight cases involved drugs, alcohol or serious violence, but Mr Lilley said each student stood down displayed behavioural issues needing to be addressed.

In a newsletter to parents, he said he wanted to "make it clear and simple" to parents and caregivers that he would not accept bad behaviour.

"I understand that you have a strong urge to stand up for and defend your sons and daughters, but it would make Bruce McLaren a far, far better school if you supported my actions." . . . .

His comments were enough to make Heather Hughes, whose son was disciplined earlier in the term, speak out publicly in support of his stance.

Ms Hughes said Mr Lilley had dealt with her son promptly and fairly after some "argy-bargy" with another boy. As a result, her son, who was given an unofficial stand-down, "hasn't ever been down that road again".

She said her boy was now regularly coming home talking about Mr Lilley's growing reputation.

"Most kids know now where they stand with him - that man's not to be messed with ... The kids won't think it's fun ... but mark my word, give it a year and you'll be amazed at what comes out of it," Ms Hughes said.

Mr Lilley said some of the recently stood-down students had been disciplined for only a day - with work to do at home - before returning with family to discuss a way forward.

"The whole idea is wanting them to go away and reflect on the situation that got them stood down and how they could have done it differently."

Some were stood down for longer but all are involved in a service involving pastoral care and restorative justice once they return. . . .

His message is clear: crossing the line, even a little, will result in some form of discipline.

Mr Lilley makes no apologies for his strict ways, saying that "long term, parents will send their child to this school because they know it is strict".
The reality is that if the school is strict, but fair--as Mr Lilley appears to be--the pupils will end up concentrated far harder upon the real business of school, which is learning. 

One wonders what the educrats in the Ministry and the teacher unions think about Mr Lilley's approach?  Would it be too much to hope that they might listen and learn?  We suspect that not only will the school likely have a growing waiting list of pupils--it will also have one for hard-working, honest teachers who want to concetrate upon the joys of teaching rather than the distractions of unruly crowd control. 

Principal Roy Lilley: recipient of a Contra Celsum S-Award, Class I, for performing a professional's duty in a manner that is Smart, Sagacious, and Salutary.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

Warm, Friendly, and Distant

Written by Douglas Wilson
Tuesday, August 17, 2010 8:48 am

One of the optical illusions created by the decision to home school or to have your children in a private Christian school is a significant one. It is this. The temptation is to think that in the home school, success or failure is fundamentally a parental matter while in the private school, success or failure is fundamentally a school matter. In truth, it is always a parental matter.

School teachers are supposed to be servants, and servants can be utilized wisely or poorly. You can have good servants and poor ones, and when you have good ones, they can still be utilized poorly. But the fundamental responsibility always rests with the one who employs the servants.

When parents refuse to avail themselves of such servants, this is absolutely fine when the work gets done, and not fine when it doesn't. When parents enroll their kids in the school, but fail to take responsibility for how their kids are growing and developing, the results are frequently not pretty. And this can happen in the best school imaginable -- and such parental collapse does not (necessarily) reflect badly on the school. I put necessarily in parentheses because sometimes the school and the parents fail together, each in their respective roles. The school never has the primary role. But the educational failure can occur even when the servants are good servants, being utilized poorly.

Schools do have their own responsibilities, of course, but they are not parental responsibilities. They have a responsibility to provide the services that they say they are going to provide, and they have a responsibility to communicate faithfully with the parents as they do so. But if the parents are not interested in following up on that communication, this is not a school problem -- except to the extent that it may create problems at school.

Say we have the Smiths and Millers, and I have no one particular in mind here. These are made-up Smiths and made-up Millers. Mr. and Mrs. M.U. Smith are homeschooling their kids, and Mr. and Mrs. M.U. Miller have their kids enrolled at the local M.U. Christian Academy. Each family has three kids, a boy and two girls. Let us say that in both families, both girls get pregnant about six years before they were supposed to, and that the respective boys have a thing or two to teach that guy in Proverbs about how to avoid that lion in the streets. In short, both families represent familial tragedies. Do we have home school fail and Christian school fail? Not really. We actually have Smith and Miller fail. In the home school setting, everybody can easily see that, while with the Christian school, there is more scope for trying to shift responsibility. The Millers have more available excuses. But it comes down to the families in both instances.

Now this does not mean that there are not temptations common to homeschooling generally, as well as temptations common to having your kids in school. As I am fond of saying, when enrolled in math class you have math problems. Whatever it is you are doing, that is where your problems are. So it is the responsibility of parents, depending on what options they are pursuing, to acknowledge the existence of such problems, and not to deny them for the sake of a particular educational ideology.

Homeschoolers can deny the problems because they want to function as "homeschoolers," rather than as "the Smiths." But at the end of the day, if there are significant problems, everybody knows where the problems are.

But when parents just leave their kid at the Christian school drop off point, and drive away, a different problem is brewing. We must resist the optical illusion of thinking that home schooling parents are any more responsible for how the education and upbringing of their children turns out. They are not. Parents are parents, period. Parents are responsible, period.

Nancy and I put all three of our kids through the whole Logos program, and it would be safe to say that we were and are die-hard supporters. But at the same time, we were extremely wary of certain tendencies that we knew could easily happen in the life of any institution. We were jealous parents -- we did not want the school to supplant our influence.

This supplanting of influence can happen in two ways. One is when the school forgets the principle of in loco parentis and tries to supplant that influence. In this case, the school is being an incompetent or sinful servant. The other occurs when the parents just check out, and the school has to make shift with what they are working with. The parents drop off the kid and the tuition check, and sometimes just the kid. When the parents leave a vacuum like this, the school has to work hard at trying not to fill it. They can do what a servant can do, but they cannot fill the center, and they should not try. Stepping into the center will only make things worse.

There are many examples of this kind of thing, so let me just mention one. In the context of another institution other than the family, Paul tells Timothy to treat the younger women "as sisters, with all purity" (1 Tim. 5:2). Avuncular hugs are all well and good, but not everybody is an uncle. John Bunyan says, I think in Grace Abounding, that he noticed some wanting to go around hugging people in the spirit of the early Christians, but, he observed, they always seemed to find "the comely ones."

Now in a Christian place, like a good school, where life is not mechanical, professional, and detached, there will be a good deal of warmth and love going around. Good deal, and that general theme has my vote. But when our kids were there, if Nancy and I had seen our daughters participating in the general bonhomie by hugging male teachers, we would have responded, not by blaming the school, but by concluding that our family was not functioning as it should. On the school side, of course, the advice that Paul gave Timothy should always be remembered, but this exhoration is directed to parents. Parents who create vacuums should not blame nature for abhoring those vacuums.

If your church has a youth pastor who is handsy with the girls, that is a problem for the session to address. Great, and they should address it. But parents who have loved their daughters into a state of security approaching the sublime will find that they don't have to "warn" their daughters about that youth pastor. The youth pastor will already creep them out. They will give him, what is called in the Navy, a wide berth.

Knowing that many families create neediness in their daughters, pastors, youth pastors, teachers, and so on should take care to cultivate a demeanor that I call being "warm, friendly, and distant." Chumminess is not what you want. But their responsibility is not to not create this -- it is to avoid compounding the problems associated with it. The basic responsibility always rests with the parents, whether at school or home.

Lies and Empty Wind

On Antithesis and Backbones

We blogged several days ago on the fundamental agreement that lies beneath any superficial conflict between the Unbelieving West and Islam. Both agree that redemption comes by law.

Islam (which means “submission”) teaches that salvation and redemption to both man and society comes from submitting to the law of Allah, as revealed by the prophet Mohammed, or the hadith, or (in the case of Shia) the successive Imams. The Unbelieving West also has a doctrine of redemption by law: as society looking more and more to the State, its laws and regulations to solve all of mankind's problems—whether it be disease control, arresting climate change, relieving poverty, banishing crime, or even preventing and restituting accidents.

The only disputes between the Unbelieving West and Islam are intra-mural ones—disputes over the source and content of the law. Both, however, agree that law redeems, and that mankind can be saved by submission to it. Now there is an interesting historical development that has taken place in Islam which puts it even closer to the West. While formally the law comes from the idol god, Allah, in actual practice the source of law and its application comes from the Islamic state, or whoever is in control of the civil magistracy in respective Islamic societies.

The formal confession of Islam is that there is but one god, Allah and Mohammed is his prophet. But in actuality the Koran cannot stand as a complete revelation of the mind and will of Allah for man: it requires interpreters and interpretation. Moreover, because the Koran is primarily a book proclaiming salvation by law, there is no distinction in Islam between church and state. Therefore, the political powers of the day in Islamic societies have successively developed, changed, modified and altered the Koran's teaching. Fundamentally, Islamic law and its development has been a statist phenomenon, and increasingly so.

Take, as an obvious example, that Mohammed never taught that women should be veiled and covered by the burkha. But subsequent traditions and teachings do (being derived from cultural practices of various historical tribes)—and they are just as binding upon the conscience of the faithful as anything in the Koran. And since the ultimate manifestation of the power and will of Allah upon earth is the state, the state will bind the conscience on these matters. Islam is intrinsically statist because it requires absolute submission to Allah, and Allah's power is manifested primaily in the State.

So the post-Christian West and Islam agree on two fundamental doctrines: that redemption is by submission to law and that the State is the mediator and enforcer of law. There are minor disagreements over the source and content of the law. Islam formally says that the law which redeems comes from the god, Allah—but in reality, Islamic law originates in the hearts, minds, and traditions of man as manifested in the State. The West formally says that the law comes from the will of the people—but in reality the State is increasingly intrusive and despotic and answers to itself. Western government trundle on under the oppressive weight of the despotic bureaucratic machine: all incoming governments, regardless of their ideology, end up conforming. In the hearts of Unbelievers in the West and in Islam there is a deep and abiding consensus that the State is, by definition, the will of the people and the will of the people is the State. Allah and the will of the people alike end up to be little more than warranting concepts.

One recent commentator on our blog, Crusader Rabbit enjoined Christians in the West to have more backbone in standing up to encroaching Islam. He suggested there was too much “turn the other cheek” stuff in the response of the Church in the West to Islam. This, in turn, implies that there is not a sufficiently strong antithesis between Christianity and Islam.

Our response to this would be the classic “two-handed” response. (We recall that Winston Churchill once lamented that he could not find a one-handed economist!) On the one hand, amongst those churches and denominations where the gospel of the grace of God in Christ Jesus has become caked over and occluded by centuries of unbiblical traditions, redemption by law will have re-emerged. Where this is so, the ravine that stands between Islam and the Church and the Unbelieving West and the Church will have filled up with human detritus to where there is little more than a shallow ditch separating the Church from Islam. In such cases, Crusader Rabbit's lament is justly uttered. In such places both Islam and such unfaithful churches share a common belief that redemption is by law, and the only disputes turn around the content of the law which redeems, which in turn devolves down to matters of social conditioning and preferences.

On the other hand, amongst those churches and denominations where there is both a clear proclamation from the Scriptures and belief amongst the people that redemption is not a matter of law, but a matter of the grace and mercy of God, by faith in Christ Jesus alone, the antithesis is deep and unbridgeable.

This is not to say that we have been as faithful to the antithesis as we ought, nor that we have properly thought through all the implications. To do this properly requires both wisdom and courage. In this we have much to learn. Learning how to be kind and loving to our enemies, whilst being resolutely faithful to our Lord and His total dominion, and whilst calling these same enemies to repent of their law-redemption and turn to Christ that they too may be saved is neither easy nor something in which we are naturally facile.

But the antithesis is there: it is deep and obvious, and it cannot be removed by man. For from the very dawn of the human race, God said, “I will put enmity between your (Satan's) children and the children of Eve” (Genesis 3:15). He alone can remove it and He has subsequently made clear that He removes it only in the Person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ. (Acts 4:12) Before Him, Allah is a wretched idol and Mohammed is a false prophet. He will not have them in His presence (Exodus 20:3); they are lies and empty wind.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

Skanky Movie III

Education - Education
Written by Douglas Wilson
Friday, July 30, 2010

One trap that parents fall into is the trap of not wanting sin around their kids. But I suppose this requres some explanation.

The mistake arises because there are a bunch of sins that parents should keep away from their kids -- kidnappers, for starters, and cocaine dealers, and pornographers, and seducers, and Cartesian dualists. One of the accusations leveled against private Christian education is that conservative parents are sheltering their kids. What next?! Parents sheltering children! We feed them too.

But here is where the mistake come in. There is a question of degree here. We are not supposed to keep our children away from the presence of all sin whatever. And that's a good thing, too, because it is impossible. There is a type of sin, common to the human condition, that your children will encounter (on a daily basis) on the playground of the finest Christian school imaginable. If you don't send your kids to that school (because of all the sin there), they will encounter even more of it at church, in their relationships with their siblings, in their bedroom all alone, and in the midst of all the dirty thoughts between their ears. The task of parents in this is not to avoid this kind of sin, but rather to teach their children how to battle it. You cannot learn to battle something if you are constantly endeavoring to stay away from it.

In short, with this kind of sin, there are two errors -- equally bad. One is to accommodate yourself to the presence of this kind of room temperature sin, in such a way as to assume room temperature yourself. That is the way of spiritual death. The other is to pretend to yourself that the choices you have made have somehow successfully distanced you from all that icky stuff. But it is as close to you now as it ever was, but is now invisible because you have daubed your eyes with a special Pharisee salve. This is another way of spiritual death.

The mere presence of sin discredits nothing and no one. A school is not a poor school because junior high girls are catty at lunch, because one of the boys in the fourth grade makes earthy observations about certain bodily functions, or because some blonde named Kimberly gets great grades and the word among the kids in the back row who don't like to study is that she might be the teacher's pet. Welcome to earth, everybody. This is not the kind of sin parents are required to keep their kids away from. They are in fact required not to try. This is the kind of sin that parents need to teach their kids to handle, and avoidance is not a biblical strategy. Because it will be necessarily unsuccessful, avoidance is simply a pretence of avoidance, with the down side -- because you are too busy kidding yourself -- of having children who are not learning how to respond and resist.

Suppose your child is in the classroom of a fine Christian school, one with a great reputation. You know the teachers and administrators, and they really love the Lord. But you know for a fact that two/thirds of the kids in your son's class are all hot about the latest skanky movie. Just last night, after the youth group get together, they all went to see Skanky Movie III, one that has set records for both kinds of box office gross. What will your temptation be? Your temptation will be to think that however well-intentioned the folks running the school might be, the "tone" of the school is not nearly "high enough," and that all these families clearly have poor standards. You regret having to do this, but you are considering pulling your son, wrapping him up in cotton batting for two final semesters of Mom School.

You think the problem is low entertainment standards, when the actual problem is that no Christian parents -- including you -- are teaching their kids what moral leadership looks like. About a third of the kids who went to that movie didn't really want to, and wouldn't have gone if someone in the class -- I am thinking of your son in particular -- had done more than simply studied his shoelaces when the subject came up. You are tempted to think that the others have low entertainment standards, when the real lesson is that your son is not a moral leader. The response ought not to be to do something that will make him even less of one.

Only Fools and Horses . . .

When Our Leaders are Smarter than the Average Bear

We are old enough to remember with painful clarity the control economy of Robert Muldoon. Rob was a man with a few smart ideas, just like the current crop of clever folk in Wellington. He knew that the New Zealand balance of payments was precarious, to say the least. Exports were the trick, and that meant stimulating the New Zealand agricultural sector, along with a few other "Think Big" projects, mainly to reduce our reliance upon overseas fossil fuels. One major project was the supplementary minimum price scheme for agricultural produce. This artificially government subsidised price meant that thousands upon thousands of hectares of scrubland was converted to farms--which were indeed economically viable provided the taxpayer remained the backbone of the farming community. It worked for a time. Not a few farmers got rich as a result--until the whole crazy scheme collapsed.

Now, the worm has turned, and the same National Party that smart Rob led once again governs in New Zealand. Today's crop, just like Rob, are full of smart ideas to get the New Zealand economy right. Central is the much vaunted ETS--our Emissions Trading Scheme--designed to protect our access to international markets for our agricultural produce.

We make the following predictions about the actual effects of this mad hatter's scheme:

1. Agricultural production will decline.
2. Smart farmers will get rich off the back of the taxpayer.
3. An increasing acerage of rural land will go back to scrub.
4. Our free-trade agreements will break down. Instead of enhancing international trade, the ETS will destroy it.
5. Thousands of jobs in the rural sector will be lost.
6. Within two decades New Zealand will be importing dairy and meat from overseas.

The following article which was published in The New Zealand Farmers Weekly (August 2, 2010) explains why the ETS will undermine and weaken New Zealand agriculture.
How can smart people be so dumb?

South Canterbury farmer Murray Harmer is among those struggling with the concept of an Emissions Trading Scheme.

I am a 100% believer in climate change but I’m not naive enough to think that it’s all man-made. I guess that puts me firmly in the camp of the sceptics. So it never ceases to amaze me how some seemingly intelligent people (ie, John Key, David Carter,Nick Smith) can make some extremely dumb decisions - that is the proposed ETS.

In case they haven’t worked it out yet New Zealand farmers are very responsive to market signals - just look at the conversion to dairy over the last 10 years. So when you subsidise one sector (forestry) and penalise another (livestock farming) you are likely to create massive distortion.

There also seems to be a very interesting play on words from the powers that be in the form of the word mitigate. In reality this is just a disguise for the word subsidy.

When I contacted Landcare Research to find out what our unsubsidised carbon liability would be under this ETS they informed me it would be approximately $45,000 a year at a carbon price of $15/tonne. John Key tells us that the average sheep/beef farmer will “only have to pay $3000 pa.” So this must mean that we will be “mitigated” (subsidised) to the tune of $42,000 a year.

Now, it’s not going to take very long for our trading partners to work this out, which could not only put our free trade agreements in jeopardy but will provide an opportunity for countries like Japan, Korea, Europe, UK and US to apply significant tariffs at point of sale for our produce as America did to our lamb in 2002.

David Carter tells us that it is economically viable to plant our less productive areas in trees and claim the carbon credits. If we assume these areas are now carrying only about 5su/ha at a carbon price of $15, does this also mean that if the carbon price doubles to $30/tonne it is economic to convert land that is carrying 10su/ha to forestry? About 90% of sheep and beef properties would fall into this category.

I made a recent inquiry to one of the forestry carbon companies to find out the viability of planting forestry. The information I received was that depending on what part of NZ you lived in you could earn about $425 net/ha/year for the first 10 years rising to about $800 after that. Remember this is money paid for producing nothing and doing nothing so provided you don’t harvest these trees you get to keep the lot.

With the average age of sheep and beef farmers being 58 this looks like a very good retirement plan. With sheep and beef farmers’ incomes being very marginal about $200-$400/ha net or less it could be conceivable that these farmers seize on this and plant trees en masse. For a start, if we plant our farm in pines and become carbon farmers we will be $45,000 better off for doing nothing and producing nothing instead of producing food and clothing for the urban population (dumb).

So let’s look at what might happen. First the farmer with his farm now completely planted in pines would become a carbon farmer with a monthly income for the next 30/40 years. Of course, they would still have a few feral cattle /sheep/pigs/ deer running around in their pine plantation for table purposes. And because they are “feral” they don’t produce methane and they aren’t penalised under the ETS - just as our thousands of trees planted in shelterbelts don’t need carbon dioxide to survive - or so the writers of the ETS seem to think.

Now that we have disposed of these so called polluting sheep/beef and deer from our land along with them go about $10 billion of overseas income and about 150,000 urban jobs. So what are these jobs to be axed: shearers, shed hands, 60% of stock agents, 50% of merchandise employees, 75% of freezing workers, 75% of transport operators, 50% of fertiliser workers, Meat and Wool NZ,50% of machinery sales and service workers, 50% of animal health workers, 25% of accountants, 50% of MAF, 50% of Massey and Lincoln
staff, 50% of AgResearch staff and scientists, 50% of veterinarians, 40% of animal health product manufacturing staff, 50% of farm advisors and staff and many more too numerous to count.

I would also suggest anyone involved in these industries will have good reason to be very nervous. As we see, those scruffy sheep and beef animals not only provide huge amounts of food but also provide thousands of jobs for ordinary NZers. As for the tourist industry, I don’t think we will get many tourists travelling 20,000km to drive through huge pine forests interspaced by a few dairy farms so we can expect a hit here too.

In summary Key, Carter and Smith have literally “dropped” us into a scheme that is likely to spiral out of control with far reaching consequences for all NZers. One of the first signs will be a downgrade in NZ’s credit rating followed by a significant lift in interest rates.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Christendom and Unity

Unity and Diversity Equally Ultimate

Christendom should be one: the form of organisation and the locus of powers in that unity are questions upon which we cannot pronounce.

But within that unity there should be an endless conflict between ideas--for it is only by the struggle against constantly appearing false ideas that the truth is enlarged and clarified, and in the conflict with heresy that orthodoxy is developed to meet the needs of the times; an endless effort also on the part of each region to shape its Christianity to suit itself, an effort which should neither be wholly suppressed nor left wholly unchecked.

The local temperament must express its particularity in its form of Christianity, and so must the social stratum, so that the culture proper to each area and class may flourish; but there must also be a force holding these areas and these classes together. If this corrective force in the direction of uniformity of belief and practice is lacking, then the culture of each part will suffer.

We have already found that the culture of a nation prospers with the prosperity of the culture of its several constituents, both geographical and social; but that it also needs to be itself a part of a larger culture, which requires the ultimate ideal, however unrealisable, of a "world culture" in a sense different from that implicit in the schemes of world-federationists.

And without a common faith, all efforts towards drawing nations closer together in culture can produce only an illusion of unity.

T. S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture, p.157

Islam and the West are Kissing Cousins

Redemption by Law

Islam and the post-Christian West have a great deal in common. Far more than both think. They share the same grand vistas of Unbelief, of denial of the sovereign claims of the Lord Jesus Christ. The upshot is that on almost every issue or contention, the debate between the West and Islam is merely over tactics and tastes. It is never more than an intra-familial debate--although at times heated and hostile.

We were struck again with this as we reflected upon the public march in Manukau City this past weekend against alcohol's easy availability. The NZ Herald blared forth in normal fashion with the "human interest" angle, designed to arouse pity and anger. A couple had tragically lost their daughter in a road accident caused by her drunkenness. The problem: she had become a victim to New Zealand's binge drinking culture.
The 22-year-old alcoholic fell victim to what her parents described yesterday as New Zealand's "widely accepted" binge-drinking culture. Three months ago, her life support was switched off after she was partially flung from the car she was driving drunk in a crash south of Morrinsville.

Now, we do not seek to trivialise in any way the tragic death of this young person. Nor do we wish to parley the grief of the parents into something unimportant or inconsequential. Our heart goes out to them: to lose a child is a heavy, heavy burden.

It is the particular use of the story that we object to. The blatant sub-text is that the social problem of alcoholism and binge drinking in New Zealand can be dealt with or prevented by prohibition. Granted--not total prohibition--but relative prohibition. If the government were to pass laws restricting the sale and availability of alcohol to teenagers then the problem would reduce. An adjacent sub-text is the notion that an evil force exists to promote drinking--namely the complex of brewing companies, supermarkets and liquour retailers, and the hospitality industry, all of whom benefit commercially from the sale of liquor. They extract filthy lucre from the suffering of helpless victims, a modern manifestation of the vile inkeepers, Monsieur and Madame Thernadier from Les Miserables.

"The government ought to do something" is the ubiquitous nauseating refrain of the West. The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ sings "Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war," and the people of the land sing "Onward parliamentarians, redeem us from all evil".

And it is here that the West and Islam begin to kiss passionately. Both believe redemption and sanctification is by law. Pass enough laws and promulgate sufficient restrictions and all evil will be banished from the land. Islam is just a bit more consistent and serious about it than the self-indulgent, sybaritic West--that's all. But we are rapidly getting there.

In Islam alcohol is an evil--so it is totally banned. When alcohol consumption becomes a problem in New Zealand, we immediately turn to the same type of solution: redemption through laws and bans. It is just that we argue for partial prohibition and increasing restrictions. It is a matter of degree, not substance.

The West hates the burqha and the virtual imprisonment of Islamic women, objecting to their "chattelisation". Yet the rationale is eerily akin to that employed to restrict the sale of alcohol because far too many people in New Zealand are getting drunk and committing stupid, if not criminal acts. Islam argues that lust for women outside of marriage is evil: the cause of the evil is not what arises in the heart of men, but the occasion of temptation--which is the sight of a woman. To a heart inflamed with lust, even the smallest part of the human anatomy can be eroticised and an occasion for lust--an ankle, a finger, or an ear. To, to "protect" their women, Islamic justice calls for the complete covering of the women. However, what is really at work is an external, legalistic attempt to stop men sinning. Men who lust are victims of circumstances, just as was the poor young woman who lost her life in the NZ Herald story. Change tthe circumstances, cover the women and men (not women) are protected from lust.

Redemption by law; attempting to make people holy by changing external circumstances. This is the "gospel" of Islam. It is nothing other than slavery and tyranny. It is also the "gospel" of the West.

Islam and the Unbelieving West have a great deal in common (which is why the West believes it can reason with Islam to a middle position). This approach truly makes sense and is completely understandable. But it also means that the West's opposition to Islam is feigned. It is not a clash of world-views at all, but a mere inter-denominational rivalry. Salvation by law and sanctification through regulating externalities is so deeply held in both traditions that, in the end, both will form an unholy axis to turn upon the Lord Jesus and His church.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Feminisation of the Church

Heading Off the Sweetest Boy . . .

Written by Douglas Wilson
Friday, August 06, 2010

"At the same time, because of sentimentalism and pietism, the definitions of piety have become increasingly feminized. The definition of what constitutes devout piety has drifted into feminine territory, and ministers have labored to keep up with the shifting expectations. The sweetest and gentlest boy in the church is the one who is told repeatedly while growing up that he really ought to consider seminary. The boy who garnered seventeen black eyes and three broken arms while growing up is never told that by anybody" (Why Ministers Must Be Men, p. 42).

Monday, 16 August 2010

A Bitter Brew

. . . it is often . . . anti-imperialists who, being liberals, are the most complacent believers in the superiority of western civilisation, and at one and the same time blind to the benefits conferred by imperial government and to the injury done by the destruction of native culture. According to such enthusiasts, we do well to intrude ourselves upon another civilisation, equip the members of it with our mechanical contrivances, our systems of government, education, law, medicine and finance, inspire them with a contempt for their own customs and with an enlightened attitude towards religious superstition--and then leave them to stew in the broth which we have brewed for them.
T.S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture, p.167

Afghanistan, anyone?