Monday, November 4, 2013, 9:29 AM
The polarization of Congress is much-discussed among journalists, commentators, and political scientists. The fact of congressional polarization seems true, as can be seen from the figure below, taken from the National Journal. In 1982, 344 of 435 House members were ideologically positioned between the most-liberal Republican House member and the most-conservative Democratic House member. Defined this way, almost 80 percent of the House members shared the congressional “middle” at this time. Thirty years later, eleven House members, less than 3 percent of the House, share this same middle ground.
Debate continues about what caused this polarization. Hypotheses include institutional causes—such as partisan Gerrymandering and closed-party primaries—and behavioral causes, such as increasingly-polarized voters electing increasingly-polarized legislators.
I’m of course open to good theory and good evidence on any front. My own arm-chair hypothesis is that U.S. political parties became more-ideologically homogeneous (and hence polarized) as a result of generational change—the dying off of the last generation of voters whose partisan affiliation was significantly influenced by residual Civil War loyalties.
I saw the remnant of “yellow-dog” Democrats—Democrats who would vote for a yellow dog rather than a Republican—during the very first year I moved to Texas. Traveling in rural Texas I glimpsed a campaign sign with a name on it and under the name the campaign slogan, “Conservative Democrat for State Legislature.” I never saw anything similar after that first year in Texas. So, too, the Republican party used to have a sizable liberal wing as well, centered mainly, although not exclusively, in the Northeast. Even though over one hundred years after the end of organized military conflict, regional partisan affiliations were still driven significantly by passions spawned by the Civil War.
But with liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, the legacy of the Civil War also meant that, for over a century after its end, ideology did not map neatly onto partisan affiliation. Party adherents were ideologically heterogeneous, and so elected ideologically heterogeneous representatives.
But while resentments might remain, people do not. Three generations of partisan resentment and partisan loyalty was apparently enough. As the third generation after the war began to pass during in the 1970s and 1980s, children of folks who identified as conservative Democrats maintained their ideology but changed their partisanship and identified as conservative Republicans. And children of liberal Republicans kept their ideology but changed their partisan affiliation, and identified instead as liberal Democrats. (Not all children of course, but enough.) One hundred and twenty years after the war, ideological affiliation began to align more closely with partisan affiliation. But as partisanship becomes increasingly aligned with ideology, “polarization” occurs naturally. My own inclination is to ascribe Newt Gingrich and the 1994 congressional revolution as a reflection of this trend rather than as a cause of it.
Some commentators and politicians lament the rise of ideological parties in Washington. They pine for the Washington D.C. of the 1950s in which partisanship did not map so neatly onto ideology, and resulted in a politics that was kinder and gentler than it is today. They want a return to the days of their youth when Washington politics was fun. This way of thinking, however, treats polarization as the aberration. If my hypothesis is correct, then in point of fact the century or so of ideologically-mixed partisanship prompted by the Civil War is the aberration. One could think that political parties are natural focal points for ideologically like-minded voters and politicians. If so, then the polarization that we observe today is simply a move toward a more-normal electoral context as a result of the dissipation of partisan habits disrupted by the residual passions of the Civil War.
To be sure, we can debate whether ideologically-aligned political divisions are good or bad for the country. My initial inclination—again subject to revision as our experience with it grows—is that party “polarization” promotes electoral accountability: Voters know which party prompted the recent, partial shut-down of the national government, and voters know which party is responsible for Obamacare. In that context, may the best party win. Nonetheless, increased partisan accountability sits in tension with the slower, back-slapping way of policy-making and debate in Washington during the 1950s. I don’t begrudge either politician or commentator who personally misses that era. But my own inclination is to reject the notion implicit in their lament, that simply because politicians and journalists enjoy today’s Washington politics less today than they did decades ago, that today’s politics is perforce bad for the country or for democracy.
Thursday, October 3, 2013, 10:34 AM
Jim Wallis, editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine, posted this YouTube video criticizing the shutdown of non-essential parts of the U.S. national government as “unbiblical.”
Wallis’s argument is three-fold. First, he posits the factual claim that the government of the United States is now “shut down.” Secondly, he suggests that those who support the shut down don’t simply disagree over the policy wisdom of the Affordable Care Act or the wisdom of funding an ever-growing national government. Rather, they are “against government per se.” By being against government “per se,” Wallis continues, they oppose God by opposing support for his magistrates (a la Romans 13). Finally, the Republican “extremists” are “against the poor because they’re against the government.”
Where to begin with Wallis’s argument? First, despite the rhetorical styling of a “government shutdown,” the national government is not shut down. Reports are that approximately 80 percent of those who work for the U.S. government will continue working during the “shut down.” That’s approximately 3.3 million Federal workers showing up for work out of a total of around 4.1 million. To be sure, non-essential parts of the national government funded through the annual appropriation process are temporarily shutdown, but wide swaths of the national government that are deemed “essential’ continue unabated, as are the parts of the national government not budgeted through the annual appropriation process. And state and local governments are largely unaffected as well.
Normally I’d take folks who speak of the government “shut down” as using short hand to mean “the temporary and partial shutdown of nonessential parts of the national government budgeted through the annual appropriation process.” Using a short-hand expression to refer to a more-complex reality is not a problem – even an acronym in this case would be unwieldy. (Referring to the TPSNPNGBTAAP really does not help matters.) But because of his next claim, Wallis seems to suggest to his viewers that the U.S. government has literally shut down. Wallis says that the shutdown is prompted by politicians who are “against government per se” and that “they want to destroy the house.” That the government has been “shut down” is the evidence Wallis draws on for his claim that extremist Republicans really want to destroy the entire national level of government in the U.S.
The exaggerated factual claim is necessary for the exaggerated conclusion. It is, after all, difficult to deduce a desire to dispense with the entire U.S. national government from a temporary shutdown of non-essential parts of that government that are budgeted through the annual appropriate process in which 80 percent of federal workers continue on their jobs. Wallis diminishes his argument, and himself, by exaggerating the impact of the “shut down” in Washington, D.C. and its implications.
But Wallis has one more deduction to make. From the conclusion that Republican extremists want to destroy the national government, and because the national government supports the poor, he concludes that these Republicans are therefore “against the poor because they’re against the government.”
I believe that Wallis is a smart man, and as a smart man I don’t think that he really believes either the exaggerated factual premise of his argument, or the exaggerated deductions he makes from that argument.
Rather, I’d hypothesize that Wallis opposes Republican objectives in this policy fight because the main goal of many GOP legislators is to delay implementation of, if not repeal outright, the Affordable Care Act. But defending the Affordable Care Act by name would mean that Wallis would implicate all the gray shades of the practical, compromised world of actual policy making, and that doesn’t make a compelling narrative for anyone on this side of policy wonkdom. Better to paint the controversy in the blacks and white of a Manichean policy world, even at the cost of accuracy.
I believe that Jim Wallis is passionate in his support of the Affordable Care Act. I believe that his support derives from a bona fide belief on his part that the ACA is good for the poorest and most vulnerable among us. But I also believe in the good faith of many, if not most, of the Republicans who disagree with him. Numerous Republicans believe, in good faith, that current levels of taxation and regulation serve as a deterrent to the type of economic growth that would best serve to reduce poverty and to empower the weak. Most Republicans, even among the “extremists,” believe that social insurance systems can be more efficiently financed and administered, thereby better supporting those in need. Surely there is room for good-faith disagreement regarding the form that social insurance takes and whether the Affordable Care Act is a step forward or a step backwards, when balancing anticipated advantages of the policy against its anticipated costs. And even on the level of tactics – it takes two to play a game of chicken. If Democrats compromised with Republicans, then the government would not now be shut down. (Democrats of course do not want to compromise because it would undercut their credibility in future policy debates. But there’s no reason to think that’s any more noble than Republicans who aim at the same outcome.)
But Wallis doesn’t want to paint in policy gray. He wants to paint in black and white, where good people support the policies that he supports and bad people oppose the policies that he supports. So he seeks to escalate a policy debate into a debate between those who support biblical truth and those who oppose it.
Wallis criticizes the Republican “extremists,” saying “What’s happening here is more than politics, it’s ideology.” Despite Wallis’s claim to be advancing a “theological” criticism of what’s happening, what’s happening in Wallis’s YouTube video is not theology, it’s ideology in theological clothing.
Tuesday, August 20, 2013, 2:21 AM
ABP (Associated Baptist Press) published a web story here about some Baptists advocating for a return to wine (instead of grape juice) when celebrating the Lord’s Supper. The article quotes Pastor Troy Dixon noting that he abstains from alcohol to keep from scandalizing other Baptists. “We are still under the grip of that fundamentalist mindset where any alcohol is taboo, forbidden, of the devil.”
This brought to mind my daughter’s comment of a few months ago at a small dinner we hosted. We were chatting with our guests about some wines we liked. At one point Megan said, “I don’t like alcohol. I only drink because I’m a Christian.”
I had to laugh, given the common perception of Christians and alcohol.
The thing is, my daughter hates the taste of alcohol. It’s too bitter for her taste. She also hates soda; doesn’t like the carbonation. I still recall her first sip of soda as a small child. She wrinkled up her nose and never wanted another taste.
Of course, there was no reason for her to drink soda if she didn’t want to. But as for alcohol, well, we’re Evangelicals. By that I mean we’re Missouri Synod Lutheran Christians.
Now, for most of the world, LCMS Christians are fundamentalists, meaning we actually believe all that supernatural stuff about the Cross, resurrection and etc. Most Fundamentalists don’t consider us Fundamentalists because we baptize babies, are confessionally amillennial, and we drink – in the worship service. That doesn’t bother us much; we’re self-actualized enough not really to worry who else labels us as in or out according to their own criteria. But for most folks looking at Christians from the outside, they think that LCMSers are fundies.
As LCMS Christians, the Lord’s Supper is a big thing for us. We celebrate it at every divine service. We really believe that God really forgives us as we really receive the body and blood of Jesus in the Supper. So that’s big. And so we don’t mess around with the Supper.
So my daughter hates the taste of alcohol and never drinks it. Except in Church. In worship. She drinks because she’s a strong, faithful Christian. I thought of this as I read the ABP story and thought, ”Wow. Baptist we ain’t.”
This reminds me of another story. While in grad school I met a guy, Gary, from my hometown who was attending a nearby college. We became fast friends, driving back and forth between the East Coast and Nebraska. (One trip we devoted the 24 hour drive back to Nebraska to discussing predestination. It was a great time, and a pretty intense 24-hour period.) Gary was raised in the Nazarene Church. It is basically a fundie Wesleyan church. Traditionally—no alcohol. Definitely.
Anyway, we were both back in Lincoln soon after we met, and we were talking about something in the Bible. So he came over to my sister’s house (where I was staying during the school break) with his Bible. I grabbed a couple of beers—and one for Gary as well (just kidding!)—we sat down at the kitchen table, and I began to flip through my Bible to find the first passage we were talking about. I gradually came to notice that Gary had not moved since I sat down, and had been completely silent. This was unusual for Gary. I looked up at him, and his eyes were as big as saucers. Each of us had our Bibles opened, with a bottle of beer sitting within easy reach just beyond the opened page. All he said was, “If my elders saw me now . . .”
Now, of course, I didn’t intend to cause a scandal. (Although Gary hasn’t been a Nazarene for a long time.) But I didn’t think anything of having a beer while studying the Scriptures. Shoot, at some of the LCMS churches I’ve attended, we serve beer during congregational meetings and Bible studies. And not that I want to be far gone in promoting the integration of alcohol with reading the Scriptures—there are certainly numerous and extended times of study when focused attention is absolutely required—but I assume that Jesus’ disciples often sat at his feet in the evening listening to him as they all sipped on some wine or strong drink. It’s a sweet time.
Saturday, June 8, 2013, 11:13 AM
Liberty Forum at the Online Library of Law and Liberty posted an essay this month by George Mason Professor Frank Buckley arguing that the ministerial form of executive government in parliamentary systems better protects liberty than does the presidential form of executive government in separation-of-power systems.
The Forum posted responses to Buckley’s argument by UC-Berkeley Professor John Yoo and by yours truly here and here, respectively.
Monday, February 25, 2013, 3:47 PM
Warm Bodies is not a great film, but it is a fun film. It has a cute turn on the traditional zombie movie. In this case, a human, as it were, infects the zombies and they start to turn human again.
The film includes a few theologically suggestive features. To wit, the main zombie character, R, has his human life restored in a baptism toward the end of the film.
So, too, a hint of inverted “Adam theology” informs the story arc as well. R begins the film passive, inarticulate, and bestial (he cannot remember his name beyond a growl-sounding “Rrrr”). Despite his passivity, he sees Julie at risk, and saves her from death. His relationship with Julie, the need to save her from different threats, and the need to sustain her life, e.g., finding her food, prompts R increasingly to shake off his passivity, up to the point that he has his humanity definitively restored in baptism (while saving Julie once again from death).
This contrasts with Adam, charged by God to guard and nurture the Garden, of which Eve was the epitome. The Genesis text suggests that Adam stood passively by Eve as the Serpent lead her to death (note the “with her” in Genesis 3.6). In a narrative movement from anticipated activity to realized passivity, Adam loses his soul and becomes bestial (even looking like a beast after the Fall, being robed by God in animal skins, Gn 3.21). In contrast, R moves from an expectation of passivity to realized activity, gaining back his human life.
Not a great film. But a fun film.
Thursday, November 8, 2012, 10:33 AM
President Obama was such a weak candidate that one unalloyed good moment by a weak Republican candidate – the debate of October 3 – almost threw the election to the latter. As a result, I don’t see that the election results presage much about American conservatism. I recall repeatedly lamenting the insipidness of the Republican primary field throughout the summer and fall of 2011. In serial fashion, Republican primaries sequentially propelled different, fatally flawed candidates ahead of the ultimate winner.
Romney then capped his primary performance with a dismal summer, a merely adequate convention, and a dismal September. To be sure, the October 3 debate provided Romney with a tenuous lead in national polls. His strategy was promptly to sit on that lead, and it slowly eroded. I don’t think that Sandy was the cause of Romney’s defeat as much as it was the exclamation point at the end of the decay of the one-time effect of Romney’s October 3 performance. That one good moment almost resulted in the defeat of a sitting president underscored the president’s electoral weakness. But that Romney could generate only one good moment of unalloyed electoral quality underscored his problems as a candidate.
There are important issues that divide the nation. But this election was not about those issues, especially for the small set of voters in the middle over whom Romney and Obama contested.
This is not to say that I’m satisfied with the current state of conservatism or with the role of Christians in modern American politics. Both have reduced themselves to movements of sterile reaction. So I continue to think that there is a lot for both conservatives and Christians to muse over. But Romney’s defeat is a side-show in this bigger, and more important, story.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012, 10:48 AM
Matthew Cantirino below links John R. P. Russell’s post on “Cursing Psalms: An Allegorical Reinterpretation.” In struggling to understand the imprecations in the Psalms, I make something of a similar move to the one Russell describes. The one difference, though, is that I apply the imprecations to myself. I explained in an old post on another blog:
I don’t want to “get around” imprecatory prayers for sentimental reasons. I also reject C.S. Lewis’s idea that they exist in the Psalms as examples of the way we shouldn’t pray. I also don’t want to mitigate the problematic nature of these prayers merely by “spiritualizing” away the problem.
But it did strike me a while ago that that I pray imprecatory prayers against myself all the time, and I welcome others to pray imprecatory prayers against me as well. In his small catechism, Luther talks about us drowning the old Adam in us daily, that a new man should daily emerge. What is this but a prayer of imprecation against the old Adam in us?
God kills the old man (Col 3.3, Ro 6.2,6, Gal 2.20, 6.14,). This is the only “me” that exists prior to baptism, and this is a real death, it is a death more real than physical death. After all, in physical death the spirit merely separates from the body; the death of the old man is, ultimately, the extinction of this self.
I pray imprecatory prayers against myself, and welcome others to do so as well: I pray that every remnant of the old man would be cut off from this world. I pray that every remembrance of the old man would be forgotten, I pray that every cent of the old Adam’s wealth be taken away and given to the new man for his purposes, I want the entire legacy of the old man to die with him. Indeed, I bless the name of the one who dashes my Old Adam’s little ones against the rock – for the rock is Christ (Mt 21.44) and, like me, God kills them in baptism so that the new man may emerge. (more…)
Friday, September 7, 2012, 5:05 PM
Below, Matthew Schmitz lists “fifty essential religious songs” and asks what he missed. I wouldn’t suggest that Matt has missed anything on his list. For me, though, I add at least a few classical selections. The Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah would rank at the the top of my list of essential religious songs.
So, too, I’d also include the quando corpus and amen from Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater on my top 50 list. Perhaps a bit more eccentrically, ever since my daughter’s choir sang it last year, I’ve been a sucker for Michael Engelhardt’s percussion-rich arrangement of Gaudete.
More in the spirit of Matt’s list, I’d include Mahalia Jackson’s Power of the Holy Ghost among my favorite songs. I’d also suggest consideration for Touch Me Lord Jesus and When My Savior Calls Me Home by the Angelics. And for the fetching orthgonality of ominous words with toe-tapping music, I’d add Dorthy Love Coates, There’s No Hiding Place.
Finally, to leaven this with a bit of snarkiness – In the Garden would be on my bottom-50 list. Indeed, on my bottom-ten list (too sappy and sentimental). And while I’m at it, close to the bottom would also be Earth and All Stars. While I appreciate the intention of the hymn, aside from the sheer goofiness of some of the verses (“loud boiling test tubes”), my biggest complaint, as with so much modern religious communication, is that the adjectives are called upon to carry way too heavy a load.
Thursday, August 30, 2012, 2:02 PM
In yesterday’s column, George Will wrote that
When Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan, Republicans undertook the perilous but commendable project of forcing voters to face the fact that they fervently hold flatly incompatible beliefs. Twice as many Americans idenify themselves as conservatives as opposed to liberal. On Nov. 6 we will know if they mean it.
Will focuses on “clientalism” as the hallmark of the modern liberalism that conservatives oppose. But he also decries New Deal- and Great Society-era entitlement programs that, he suggests, are policy requisites for that clientalism.
Enter Paul Ryan’s full-throated defense of Medicare in his convention speech yesterday. His commitment to the permanency of this entitlement program could not have been stated more emphatically:
Medicare is a promise, and we will honor it. A Romney-Ryan administration will protect and strengthen Medicare, for my Mom’s generation, for my generation, and for my kids and yours.
To be sure, Ryan’s defense of Medicare is conservative in the sense that it defends a status-quo policy against an even more intrusive and redistributionist policy. But its import for conservatism is more than that. In his speech, Ryan placed himself and Romney squarely on one side of a fault line that divides American conservatism: Ryan is reconciled with the existence of the social-insurance state. He doesn’t just tolerate Medicare as a practical political necessity, he commits to it. Contrary to Will’s intimation, this position can be an authentically conservative position. But it is conservative more in the mold of European-style Christian Democratic conservatism than in the mold of traditional American conservatism. (more…)
Thursday, August 23, 2012, 3:56 PM
I make way too many mistakes to play “gotcha” journalism. Yet the first paragraph in this Huffington Post blog entry did arrest my attention:
Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate marks the first time in American history that no Protestant will appear on a major-party ticket for president. Ryan is Roman Catholic, and Romney, of course, is Mormon.
Biden is also a Roman Catholic. And Obama is a Protestant. (I am so not going there.) So my conclusion is that Professor Balmer (or his editor) does not think that the Democrats are a major party. Wasn’t it Will Rogers who said, “I’m not a member of any organized party – I’m a Democrat!”
Wednesday, August 15, 2012, 11:13 AM
Interesting piece by Harvard’s Steven Ozment on Lutheranism’s changed approach toward charity relative to extant practice in medieval society (HT: Real Clear Religion).
Consider Luther’s view on charity and the poor. He made the care of the poor an organized, civic obligation by proposing that a common chest be put in every German town; rather than skimp along with the traditional practice of almsgiving to the needy and deserving native poor, Luther proposed that they receive grants, or loans, from the chest. Each recipient would pledge to repay the borrowed amount after a timely recovery and return to self-sufficiency, thereby taking responsibility for both his neighbors and himself. This was love of one’s neighbor through shared civic responsibility, what the Lutherans still call “faith begetting charity.”
While I don’t know whether Rev. Ken Hennings, President of the 100,000+ plus Lutherans in the Texas District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, drew explicitly on the approach to charity discussed by Ozment to craft the District’s financial approach to funding missions and evangelism, but a similarity certainly exists. (Full disclosure: I am a lay representative on the District’s Board of Directors.)
Hennings developed a funding system for new ministries in which the District provides significant financial assistance for mission efforts and new churches, particularly for ethnic, racial, and social groups traditionally unreached by the LCMS. That part is, of course, not new. The twist in the traditional model of support, however, is that, after a period of supporting the new ministry from the center at their beginning, the ministries agree to start returning a fraction of their support (if they have the means to do so) to the District, for use then to start additional new ministries. The system not only allows the District to leverage its mission dollars to an extent far greater than the traditional model of commiting direct support ad infinitum, it also provides opportunities for new churches and ministries to help support yet-newer churches and ministries as soon as the former are financially on their feet.
Monday, July 16, 2012, 3:11 PM
The Christian Science Monitor reports growth among evangelicals in France. Largely young and drawn from minorities. Seems as though the churches are mainly Baptist or Pentecostal.
Thursday, July 12, 2012, 10:56 AM
Joseph Stiglitz, an economist who won the Nobel-Prize for his work in information economics, observed in a recent column that, “for male workers, inflation-adjusted median incomes are lower today than they were in 1968.”
The data Stiglitz used came from a recent Census report. (Scroll down to Table P-5, “People by median income and sex ▪ all races”). In constant dollars, the median income for U.S.men in 2010 was lower than it was in 1968 ($32,127 in 2010, $32,844 in 1968).
Curious about the exclusive focus on the experience of U.S. men during this period, I shifted my eyes to the data on women reported in a parallel column. Unremarked on by Stiglitz, the Census data for women provides a striking contrast to the data for men during the same period.
While median income for men has basically stagnated in constant (2010) dollars since 1968, median income for women almost doubled during the same period, from $11,089 in 1968 to $20,831 to 2010, an increase of 87.8%. While the median income in 2010 for women in 2010 was 64.8 percent of the median income for men, this increased from 1968 when the median income for women was 33.7 percent of the median income for men.
Tuesday, June 5, 2012, 5:48 PM
Over at Ethika Politika, Mattias Caro asks this in response to the discussion in my On the Square column discussion about inalienable rights:
An interesting question arises if Professor Rogers has inadvertently created a problem: if certain rights are inalienable then would it not be immoral for a person to renounce those rights, such as, say a monk who swears poverty (renouncing the right to property) or even to obey always a rule or superior (renouncing the right of liberty), or even a martyr who willingly gives himself up to a just cause (renouncing life). Seems that the argument he is constructing does not necessarily fit anecdotally with the Western tradition.
Good questions, but I “think” the response is straightforward. Starting with the last example first, the case of the martyr: In the theory of the Declaration, life is an inalienable right because God has endowed us with that right. So, too, in Locke, a person cannot commit suicide because God owns us rather than we ourselves.
What that means is that our lives are at God’s disposal even though they are not at our own disposal. God authorizes martyrdom in certain cases, as he authorizes sacrificing our lives to save others, or allows us to kill attackers to save innocents. We can give our lives away for God’s purposes, but not for our own purposes. I’d think that a version of the same answer can apply to the question about the liberty of monks.
Further, while I don’t know anything about the theology of promise in Catholic orders, I’d assume that a Superior cannot command a member to commit an ungodly act. So promising a Superior obedience to a command that is sinful would seem to me to be the alienation of something that is inalienable.
Monday, June 4, 2012, 3:52 PM
This is in the “day-late-and-a-dollar-short” category, but, on Friday, my friend Peter Leithart posted thoughts on his exclusion from the altars of several churches, most notably those of Catholic, Orthodox, and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod churches.
Peter’s substantive argument is, as usual, interesting. That said, I think that Peter lets himself off a bit more easily than he lets off his Catholic, Orthodox, and Lutheran interlocutors.
To wit, Peter writes in passing that he would of course exclude heretics from the altar. Aside from the fact that Peter’s heretics may be a somewhat-different set of individuals than Catholic, Orthodox, or Lutheran heretics, the larger point is that Peter is not in principle opposed to drawing a line around the altar. Rather, he is against the lines that Rome, Constantinople, and St. Louis draw.
Fair enough. But I think Peter should shoulder the same burden he places on these other communions. For a start, I think that Peter needs to identify where he would draw the line around the altar and, more specifically, justify why he draws the line where he does. Concomitant with this, he needs to argue why drawing the line at a different location than where he draws it is somehow less biblical than his choice.
Monday, June 4, 2012, 11:47 AM
My review of Jack Balkin’s book, Living Originalism, has been posted on the Library of Law and Liberty here. Professor Balkin seeks to produce a theory of textualism persuasive to his fellow Progressives.
Friday, May 11, 2012, 4:45 PM
Here’s a report about Danish teens using modern Vampire stories as platforms to think of spiritual matters. Given their immense popularity in the U.S., I also think that these stories can be drawn on to consider theological concepts with teens (and teens at heart) such as the Real Presence in the Supper, the relationship between the New and Old Testaments, and the work of Jesus Christ.
Both Vampire stories and the Christ story center on the identification of life with blood. This starts with Noah in the Old Testament. God tells Noah that he can eat animal flesh, but not animal blood, “You shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Gn 9.4). Still, even in the OT, fallen humanity desperately needs the life that is in the blood. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement” (Lev 17.11, cf., Lev 11.14, Dt 12.23).
While the Old Testament flatly prohibits the eating of blood with the flesh, with the coming of Jesus Christ, the New Testament commands the practice, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6.53-54). (more…)
Tuesday, April 24, 2012, 11:00 AM
The Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs recently released results of their 2012 survey of “millennials.” “Millennials” are young adults between the ages of 18 and 24.
The report contains a number of results of interest; among the most dramatic are the figures relating to change in religious identification.
According to the survey, there has been a net decline of one-third (34 percent) in the proportion of Anglos (“whites”) who identified as Catholic in their childhood and those who identify as Catholic in their millennial years. This decline is even worse than the 28 percent decline for Anglo mainline Protestants.
For Hispanics, there is a net decline of 21 percent in identification as Catholic between youth and young adulthood.
By comparison, the net loss is only 6 percent for Evangelical Protestants. To be sure, the proportion of converts among millennials to Evangelical Protestantism mutes the net loss figure. Nonetheless, the proportion of millennials who exited Evangelical Protestantism is significantly less than the Anglos and Hispanics who exited Catholicism.
While these numbers are not good news for the churches, there is a question of just how bad the news actually is.
The life-cycle hypothesis posits that youth drop out of church during an experimental period in their 20s, but return subsequently when they marry and have children. If correct, then this hypothesis implies that the survey data are not-so-bad news. Others argue, however, that that the current drop-out rate reflects a move away from the church by modern youth – even many of those who were church-goers active during their teen years have dropped-out more or less permanently according to this hypothesis.
Monday, February 27, 2012, 10:00 AM
My beef with Rick Santorum’s 2008 speech before Ave Maria University is not that it was too Christian, but that it was not Christian enough.
I love my country, served happily in the military for eight years (full disclosure: in the National Guard), and the hair on my neck still stands up during the kick strain of the “Stars and Stripes Forever.” But as a Christian, I find statements like this one Santorum made in his 2008 speech at Ave Maria University sort of creepy:
This is not a political war at all. This is not a cultural war at all. This is a spiritual war. And the father of lies has his sights on what you would think the father of lies, Satan, would have his sights on. A good, decent, powerful, influential country, the United States of America. If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age? There is no one else to go after, other than the United States.
There is really “no one else to go after” other than the United States? This is America’s leading Roman Catholic politician before what I would expect was about as thoroughly orthodox a Roman Catholic crowd as you’d get outside of a Mass (and perhaps including a fair number of typical Mass-attendees, as well), and there is “no one else” for Satan to go after other than the United States?
The church doesn’t even rank as a competitor here for Satan’s ire compared to the ire Satan has for the good ole U.S.A.?
Santorum adds that there being no one else other than the U.S. for Satan to go after has been “the case for now almost 200 years, once America’s preeminence was sown by our great founding fathers.”
To be sure, Santorum discusses the Church (and the churches) later in his speech – but only as a part of the story of the decline of the United States.
My friend – or at least my friendly acquaintance – Peter J. Leithart ended last Friday’s “On the Square” column with the conclusions that Christians “can’t talk politics without sounding like Rick Santorum, and we shouldn’t try to.” Well maybe. But I certainly hope we can do a lot better.
Monday, January 30, 2012, 3:36 PM
A chorus of conservative criticism greeted the invocation of martial virtue in his State-of-the-Union speech. Max Boot wrote that the military is “not a model for the rest of society.” Matthew Cantirino found Obama’s “conflation of ‘military’ and ‘society’ [to be] worrying.” George Will similarly opined that “The armed services’ ethos, although noble, is not a template for civilian society.”
I don’t disagree with the main thrust of these criticisms. And yet I would want to blunt the sharpest edge of the claim that the military holds no lesson for relationships in civil society:
When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israelhave I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. (Mt 8.5-13)
The short “I too” in the 9th verse is powerful. The centurion suggests that, like Jesus, he too is “a man under authority, with soldiers under me” and so he more fully understands Jesus’ authority. In response, Jesus marvels
To be sure, this centurion would seem exceptional, even among military men. Nonetheless, military life would seem to hold some lessons appropriate to civilian life.
Thursday, January 19, 2012, 10:00 AM
George Washington Law Professors David Fontana and Donald Braman ran a survey experiment on what happens to public support for the Supreme Court when it makes a controversial decision. They will publish the full results of their study later this spring in the Columbia Law Review, but they previewed their findings in the February 2 issue of The New Republic (subscription required).
In Fontana and Braman’s experiment, the polling firm they hired read respondents made-up stories about the Court or, alternatively, Congress making a controversial decision (on gay rights, gun-owner rights, etc.). The two law professors then tested the hypothesis that voters disliked (unelected) justicies making important policy decisions relative to (elected) legislators. What they found in their experimental study is that liberal voters like a political institution – whether Congress or the Court – when that institution makes liberal policy. And conservative voters like a political institution when that institution makes conservative policy.
I don’t think that this initial result is quite as surprising as Fontana and Braman want to style it. (more…)
Wednesday, January 18, 2012, 1:00 PM
At least since Gary Becker won the Nobel Memorial Prize in economics almost twenty years ago, I don’t think that we really have the option of treating “social policy” and “economic policy” as hermetically separate categories.
Since I assume that the Wall Street Journal cheered the much-deserved award to Becker, I’ve been confused at the characterization in the WSJ editorial criticized by R.R. Reno in his Monday On the Square that writing children into the tax policy somehow imports improper “social policy,” as opposed to a proper economic purpose, into the income tax code: (more…)