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60Zero Confederate Tolerancehttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2012/01/zero-confederate-tolerance
Tue, 17 Jan 2012 16:15:11 -0500Last night in Charleston, South Carolina on the day the nation celebrates the Rev. Dr. King, Governor Rick Perry used a question about voting rights to say the Federal government was at “war” with the states.
This was either ignorant or disgusting.
I think it should end the Perry candidacy in the Party of Lincoln.
One-hundred and fifty years ago Charleston South Carolina rebelled against the Constitution. They did so in the name of race-based slavery and defended the most loathsome views toward fellow human beings. The war they brought on the nation by firing on Federal facilities was more costly by far than the rest of the nation’s wars combined.
The Republican Party was forged in the fires of that war under the leadership of the most admired man in American history: Abraham Lincoln.
Either Rick Perry is ignorant of the remembrance events taking place all over the nation, including his home state of Texas, or he pandered to lingering fondness for the worst time in American history.
Don’t get me wrong: I believe in federalism and state’s rights. Lincoln did as well. What I do not believe in is a “nation” founded to protect slavery in her “constitution” run by some men willing to express disgusting views regarding fellow human beings. Americans still pay the price for hundreds of years of race based slavery.
Racism is real and impacts millions of Americans daily in slights small and great.
If Rick Perry was ignorant of that history, then he is not fit to lead a township let alone Lincoln’s party. If Rick Perry is a closet-Confederate sympathizer, he needs a new party . . . the party of Lincoln, Grant, and Theodore Roosevelt is no place for him. Provoking rebel yells in Charleston at a Republican debate is too weird.
As a historian Newt Gingrich proceeded to pander to Perry’s base by using perfectly defensible positions to send racial dog-whistles to his audience. He cannot plead ignorance. Much of what he said was innocuous in a different context, I even agree with it, but was toxic following Perry’s “rebel yell.”
Newt is one of the few GOP candidates to reach out to the African-American community and does not pander when he does. He is to be commended for this fact, but last night he allowed himself to be associated with Perry’s race baiting. As a Georgian he must be held to a higher standard.
Will Gingrich repudiate Perry’s comments? If not, then he is unfit to lead Lincoln’s party. We do not need the votes of those who think the Confederacy a noble cause.
Being George Washington: a live blog review.https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2011/11/being-george-washington-a-live-blog-review
Sat, 26 Nov 2011 21:12:07 -0500Being George Washington
A Live Blog Review
11/25/2011 2:23 PM
This review is not about Glenn Beck.
Whatever, you think of Glenn Beck; many of the parents of my students listen to him on radio, subscribe to his television network (GBTV), and read his books.
In this new book Being George Washington, from now on BGW, Beck engages in an old classical tradition. He uses historical example to teach an important lesson. Glenn Beck, like Plutarch or Weems, is less interested in the details than in the big picture.
Why did Washington matter and what can we learn from him today?
Two notes: I am not a historian so cannot “fact check” the book, but
it is not a history book in any case. The book is sermon using a historical figure, in this case George Washington, as an example. I am competent to critique a sermon. Second, I am typing these notes as I read. The time stamps are real time. I will not proof this piece, but will give my thoughts as a go in “live blog” form.
11/25/2011 2:31 PM
Beck argues he is Washington and that we all can be Washington. What does that mean? Beck claims Washington was a flawed man that became great by moral rectitude and endurance. His flaws range from the vile, owning slaves, to the ridiculous, immoderate consumption of ice cream, but Washington’s accomplishments were profound.
Is the book going to recommend a civic Pelagianism, we can save our nation by good works? I hope not. Beck will certainly include God, but will God only be allowed to play a role?
The book has a chatty style, but is very readable. It contains many “hooks” to tie Washington’s life to the present day that seem forced (like the mention of Twitter), but this is much better written than the Palin autobiography I live blogged earlier.
11/25/2011 2:36 PM
Washington is presented in battle. The book uses a “fictionalized” account of the disastrous Battle of Monongahela.
Washington is presented as a brave leader, one protected by Providence. He also learns the British can be defeated. The Man of Destiny begins his career in defeat.
The “you are there” style of history can work, but the prose here is clunky. There are too many stock phrases used to make it work for me.
Oddly, Beck as Beck read more cleanly.
11/25/2011 2:50 PM
Chapter 1: Victory or Death
The book jumps to the Revolutionary War. It assumes some knowledge of the chronology of the times: good for it! If the French and Indian War is unknown to the reader, he is going to feel lost. Why was Washington fighting with the British in the Introduction and against them here?
The book assumes you passed seventh grade Social Studies and remember some of it.
The prose continues to overuse stock phrases. Adjectives are everywhere: “bony face froze in fear.”
The Revolution is in trouble. Washington is being attacked by British troops and second-raters in the patriot cause.
(Can anyone stand Granny Gates? Only Gentleman John Burgoyne could have lost a battle to him.)
11/25/2011 3:04 PM
Chapter Two: the Harder the Conflict, the More Glorious the Triumph
Getting ready to attack Princeton, Tom Paine is read to the troops. Paine, like Lafayette, managed to be in the right cause, but for no good reasons. He defended that cause well, but that became an excuse for any number of foolish decisions later in life.
Paine, however, like the arch-hypocrite Jefferson could write better than he lived and Beck quotes him at this glorious best.
This chapter is really working. The tough weather faced by the Americans is astounding as was the bold stroke of Washington’s attack. Even knowing how it turned out, the suspense builds.
Just as the tension builds, James Madison (!) wounded, the battle is over. We are shown the results of the battle for both sides: confusion on the British, hope for the Americans.
The pacing here is poor . . . we built up slowly and ended too quickly. The near loss of Madison was a fact I had forgotten, if I ever knew it. The genius of the Constitution almost was lost as a young man.
11/25/2011 3:21 PM
Chapter 3: When None Expected Much, He did the Unexpected
(I take a break from reading here.)
Back to Becks voice, as he preaches the lesson from the last chapter in what sounds like a transcript of his speaking.
Beck rightly points to the humility of Washington as compared to the vainglory of his subordinates.
Beck manages to deploy every stereotype of the English, including an attack on the royal family. Really, Elizabeth II has been a better head of state for fifty years than almost any American president (see Carter, Jimmy or Ford, Gerald) in the same role. The English appear to be the last group that you can stereotype physically (teeth!).
Beck presents Washington as a man with a firm moral code who was also brave and could act. He was trustworthy, but not impotent as a result. This is presented as the clue to how Washington sustained the trust of the nation during the Revolution, even to the point of getting extraordinary powers.
Would Glenn Beck today allow a president, even one with the character of Washington, such powers? Would the right take down a leader in an emergency just for asking?
Washington believed in his destiny, and following a long American tradition Beck presents the evidence of God’s protection of Washington. Napoleon and Hitler each believed they were under a lucky star, but bloated by this belief became tyrants. Beck is right to note Washington’s moderation in the face of his “luck.”
Some of us use power and fortune to gain more power presuming on Providence. Washington learned humility from it.
An interesting feature of this chapter is that contains a back-and-forth on Washington’s spy network. Apparently, a few argue that he got key intelligence from a man named Honeyman, but most historians disagree. Since Beck uses him throughout the chapter, the digression to say: “Well, no, probably not,” was interesting.
The book’s blend of historic fiction and fact-checking is odd, but may work. Beck is making the point that Washington relied on providence, but did not presume on it. The General used Intel to aid his cause. It is not relevant to Beck’s point whether the legendary Honeyman was the spy Washington used or not.
Beck does seem happy to pass on legends (Betsy Ross giving her all for the cause?) if they are too good not to be true. At least he notes they are legends. . .
Beck makes an interesting point here about legends and history. Betsy Ross is a placeholder for the persons who did make the first flag and delay a commander to allow victory. The Patriots did suffer, they did need shoes, and a fictional character simply humanizes the story.
As long as we remember the difference, no harm is done. On a personal note the book “Johnny Tremain” helped me in just this way as a boy far more than many lessons in school.
Beck points out that though we may not achieve as much as Washington, we can have his greatness of character. This will allow for personal greatness, even if nobody notices it.
Again, a good point, if hastily made.
11/25/2011 3:47 PM
Chapter 4: A Valley Forged of Despair
(I do some chores here.)
Sigh: “windswept countryside.”
Does anyone actually still know what it means for a garment to be threadbare? Why do we keep using expressions past their sell by date? Will we still use “sell by date” long after no product has one?
Valley Forge was not a valley. Like learning the date of the October Revolution in Russian history, hearing this fact is one of the amazing moments in any American history class.
So small were the new states, that the Valley Forge encampment was the fourth largest city while it existed.
Washington was a gambler, another vice. How many great men share it?
Daniel Morgan saved Washington, but more the loyalty of his troops saved Washington. They would fight only for their commander. How did he inspire such devotion?
One thing Beck points out: Washington won when Steuben and others made the Americans an army. There was a reason English professionals fought as they did. Unless the circumstances were right, amateurs always lost. Washington gradually made the American army professional.
11/25/2011 4:08 PM
(I stop to do some Christmas shopping!)
Beck recounts the genuine horrors of Valley Forge.
He compares Washington to Job: a man formed by suffering. I do think that Beck misses the point of the Job story. The point of Job is not hanging in there to get more treats later: Job sees God. The treats do come, but they are incidental.
Job becomes fit by suffering with integrity to speak to God, but then learns how unfit he really is! God reveals that without His love no man could stand. Job learns the humility of love.
Washington and his men, I think, learned that lesson at Valley Forge. They did not fight from that point forward for the treats to come, few would get such prizes. They fought for each other out of love born in humility. The General had led them to Dante’s icy hell and out and they loved him.
That did not keep them from complaining, they were free men, but Washington and his men gained a great bond of love. This actually increases the power of Beck’s central point that Washington’s character meant he could be trusted with an army that loved him.
Napoleon couldn’t, Washington could.
Beck’s Washington was a man of sorrows. His health alone makes tough reading. But Beck is right that Washington learned from each earlier bout of suffering to survive and even to thrive. He learned lessons he used later.
This is very valuable.
Beck says “Put your country above yourself. Always.”
Washington did and we should do so as well.
This is true, if we remember that we should put our God above our country. Always. I think Beck assumes this, but it is worth stating.
Beck is calling for an end of selfishness.
A man who loves himself and his reputation more than his neighbor is no good for leadership.
An oddity about Washington: he owned slaves, but enrolled freed African-Americans in the army. He was better than his heritage, but never escaped it fully.
Washington is also presented as an innovator. He was not a great general, but he defeated better commanders by breaking the “rules.”
Unlike many such men, Washington also knew that the rules mattered and so he found people to teach his troops the rules!
Beck points out that Howe loved comfort and played by the rules. Both were fatal to the Tory cause.
The uselessness of the Congress of that period makes our present group look wise. Beck rightly lacerates them, but misses the point. Government by committee never works, but we need the great men to be George Washington. The ideal situation for liberty is a good great man working for a committee, because it produces the needed balance!
Washington deferred to the fools in Philadelphia, because he knew that liberty required it.
Give Beck credit for pointing out that the evidence of Washington in prayer in a grove at Valley Forge is sketchy and extra credit for a Washington quote thanking the great “Author” for Divine aid there. The image of Washington at prayer is true to his attitudes, even if he did not kneel in a literal grove.
The truth of the story matters. We should get it right, but some “skeptics” miss the point of the myth (if myth it was). Washington prayed and thanked Providence for victory. Such humility can be faked, but Washington’s cautious use of power is evidence it was not.
Chapter 6: Whom Can We Trust Now?
(After dinner and a movie!)
When I taught seventh grade social studies a lifetime ago, the saddest story was Benedict Arnold.
Most college students now know nothing of the man, I am lucky if they know his name means “traitor.” Beck tells his cautionary tale in this chapter.
Arnold was the hero of Saratoga, the most important victory of the early days of the War. He saved the battle and the Revolution and was crippled for the rest of his life from wounds suffered there.
The monument of his boot always set my students to thinking about the corrupting nature of fame.
This is a much better chapter. Beck tells battle stories badly, but corrupt city life well. He does seem to blame loving a woman for every problem so far. Falling in love is as fatal to a man in this book as it is in a Joss Whedon television program.
This was far and away the best chapter of the book so far. The pacing was excellent and the suspense well done. Washington’s actual words are blended into the fiction well.
11/26/2011 9:15 AM
Chapter 7: A Tale of Two Founders
I return to the book after a night of jollification with my family. My brother in particular reminds me of George Washington. Daniel is a man of rectitude and high honor. He has passed up many chances because they did not fit his ideals.
In a different age, he would be sought out. In this age, people wonder if he is foolish. I know him to be a gentleman.
In any case, I return to Beck.
Beck draws his conclusions from the story of Arnold and they are sound.
First, Beck points out that life is made up of choices. Arnold was dealt a bad hand, but he chose to become a hero. He did. When further struggles came, Arnolds tried to parlay his heroism into riches. He failed. Instead, he became a traitor.
Second, Beck points out that one bad choice for Arnold was his wife. It is overlooked in this age, but a man or woman can be measured by the person they choose as their closest ally. Washington chose wisely, Arnold superficially.
Third, Beck notes that Arnolds teaches us to be on constant guard. Arnold was undone by greed motivated (perhaps) by love and ego.
Quashing ego is important at all times, but in a leader vital.
God help me.
The chapter gets lost by talking about George Washington and mercy.
The execution of Major Andre seems a poor time to point out this fact. An anecdote from the French and Indian War seems out of place.
Eventually Beck gets to the point: Washington was a man of honor. He would not allow Andre to be treated differently merely because he was a nice guy or of high social status.
Washington chose honor, Arnold wealth. Arnold ended reviled, Washington the “father of his country.”
Credit to Beck for leaving a comfortable job and risking it all on a project he believes to be vital (GBTV). But I wonder if naming everything after Glenn Beck is wise? It makes marketing sense, but is
it the way of Washington? Did Washington pick the name of the city in D.C.?
(Here there is a bit of unchecked legend spreading. Did Arnold really die in his patriot jacket?)
11/26/2011 9:32 AM
Chapter 8: the War Turns at Yorktown
Getting someone to fix a leaking toilet, delayed reading this chapter: the times that try men’s souls or at least the busted toilet that tried men’s bowels.
The decision to attack Yorktown is dramatized in this chapter. Beck reminds us that the war was a near thing and that much depended on the will to fight. The British navy meant England could never lose, but the British were growing weary. The American cause with French aid could win, but only if they could find a way to force a decisive Saratoga scale victory. If the Brits stayed near the coast, that seemed impossible.
The French fleet came and Washington headed to a British army unaware it would soon be trapped in Yorktown.
Three ideas from this chapter:
First, endurance wins wars.
Second, to endure Washington had to keep an army in the field. It is common to denigrate Washington as a general, but nobody doubts that only he could have kept the army intact.
Third, mobility matters. Control the sea (and now the air) and you cannot really lose. America and the Vietnamese “lost” the battle for Vietnam, but America won the Cold War because our army could leave intact. Magnificent retreats can win a war, even if they mark a lost battle.
Libya made that lesson plain again. If you cannot protect yourself from the sea and air, you have no army.
11/26/2011 11:31 AM
Chapter 9: Yorktown Falls
(One aside: the new Cloud Reader on Amazon makes this job easy. It is a nice piece of software.)
Cornwallis strikes me (and his later career suggests) as a competent commander trapped by fate and genius. Good men lose to great ones . . . and to Providence?
A family note:
A Reynolds was probably at this battle to see the end serving with the Patriots. My family had come to Virginia in the early seventeenth century from England and now were Virginians fighting for the greatest Virginian to become Americans.
Back to Beck:
Yorktown, Beck points out, was not the end of the war, but the British could no longer win. It was a matter of how badly they would lose or what terms they would give the new Americans.
Chapter 10: The World Turned Upside Down
Washington, and the French fleet, wins the battle.
Beck points out that Washington had a rare combination of humility and preparation.
And it is at this point I would ask Beck: did you use a ghost-writer? If you did not, then this is a job well done. If you did, then where is the humility in having your own name as the only one on the cover?
Why don’t we know his name? Washington was quick to praise God and his subordinates, but the inside of the book tells me that “Glenn Beck” is a trade name!
This chapter says that Americans can spot a phony. I don’t know. Are these your words, your research Mr. Beck? If not, if it is a collaboration, then what is the harm in letting us know your actual role?
I know how hard it is to write.
Part of being George Washington, it seems to me, is giving credit where it is due.
If Beck wrote this book himself, then this is a great thing and I am sorry our culture of ghostwriting makes me suspect him when he is guiltless. While not history, this is a fine work using history to make good points, but I fear that the message would be undercut if a Cult of Beck allowed other people’s work to be sold as Beck’s.
What harm in telling us the Lafayette or Knox who made this decent work? If you supervised, then take that credit. We know Walt Disney did not draw the cartoons himself!
But enough of that . . .
Beck points to the religious reaction to the Revolution. He is right to comment that we are, and always have been a religious people. To secularize our history is to do injustice to it. It also points to a limit to historical writing.
Historians use only natural causes when explaining events. They are right to limit themselves in that way, but it is up to writers, philosophers, and theologians to look for the hand of Providence.
Augustine warns us that it is not easy to see. Habakkuk cautions against seeing God only on the winning side. Beck does not fall into most of these traps. He sees that defeat can shape character as much as victory.
If he sees God’s hand in forming America, then I agree with him. We may be wrong, but there is evidence to support the claim. A free Britain must be glad that in 1941 there was a nation ready to help with all the bravery of Canadians (who fought so well for the Empire), but the power of this massive Republic.
11/26/2011 12:00 PM
Chapter 11: Grey in your Service
Washington faces an enemy greater than the British: Congressional impotence.
The Articles of Confederation left Congress with too little power to support the Army. Beck reminds conservatives that we need a strong central government. If it has grown too strong lately, it once was too weak.
I hope many of us get the point. The libertarian delusion is just that and those who would not vote Washington the supplies and power he needed to wage war nearly snatched defeat from the hand of Victory.
This was far and away the best chapter so far. It is a familiar story to my generation, but perhaps not to younger folk. Washington’s men were tired of waiting to be paid and supplied. They were tired of being put off and Congress had grown fearful of them.
Civil war threatened.
Washington tried to talk them out of it, but words were no good. It was when he had to pull out his glasses to read a message from Congress, and his men realized that the Iron man had grown old in their service that they came toward him. They loved him and that was enough.
I think that the greatness of Washington is here. His men trusted him and could love him without fear that he would use them for bad or personal ends.
He grew grey in their service. I am a bit ashamed to admit that I cried when I read this chapter.
Chapter 12: A Moment of Crisis, a Lifetime of Preparation
Beck is honest enough to point out that historians question whether civil war was really averted by Washington that day. Perhaps, this is true.
But the event happened and it seemed to men, both at the time and in the next one hundred years, that something big had happened.
Perhaps, they were telling themselves stories, but this they knew: Napoleon went from President to Emperor to Tyrant and Washington went home.
Napoleon grew corpulent in his tyranny and Washington grew gray in their service.
These were facts and men gave them meaning. Historians are right to wonder if the meaning was overblown, perhaps America had other chances or less dramatic tipping points, but Washington still went home.
It mattered. It still matters.
Beck points at the start of the chapter to Washington’s prudence and I rejoiced. Prudence is not much in fashion. I certainly have not been a prudent man for most of my life, nor does Beck strike me as one!
And yet, I am learning the value of that great virtue: moderation. Perhaps Beck is learning it as well.
Beck makes the point that Washington did not simply cling to the Confederation: he questioned with boldness. Well done, Glenn Beck. A call to Socratic courage is much needed on the right just now.
11/26/2011 12:29 PM
Chapter 13: To Please All is Impossible
This part of the book is so much better written. What happened? Gone are the overdone adjectives. Gone is the choppiness. Did this part get written first and the first part added? Was the first part butchered in hasty editing to shorten a too short book?
It seems odd that such a brief book is getting better. The desire to appeal to God during the trying days of the Convention and Hamilton’s reaction to it were illuminating. Some men are always “practical” in meetings, other men pray, and some men are Washington and do both.
A thought: since you do not use dialectic much in the book do not use the word “Miz” when a slave speaks.
Washington is shown as willing to compromise, even on big issues, and this was a good thing. Shouldn’t this end facile use of the “flip-flop” charge?
Men of good character use politics to get what they can. Politics is an art, not a science after all!
Think Beck, think. This means Romney, Huntsman, and others may not be “RINO” types. Yes?
Shouldn’t we look at that their lives, their character?
11/26/2011 12:46 PM
Chapter 14: Little Short of a Miracle
This chapter falls short of the last few.
First, Beck is right to point out that Washington had little formal education, but was educated. Formal education can limit a man and our present system of credentialing is nearly useless for most Americans.
But Beck is wrong to attack the curriculum of schools like Bowdoin. It limits him too much. The problem is not learning what women’s studies can teach us, but that other ideas are not taught. The response to Bowdoin should be to learn more, Washington and women’s studies, not less.
Get a classical grounding and then go out and think about everything.
Beck was right to question everything and one thing he should question is whether all “new” studies are merely ideological. Isn’t there something to be redeemed there.
Fear nothing, Glenn Beck.
Formal education is good: reading well, writing well, and thinking well. Part of thinking well is thinking outside the box . . . and that includes the box that all of these new studies are nonsense or ideology. Much is, but some isn’t.
Let’s get the good and leave the bad.
Beck is right about two things: being there and having patience.
Washington demonstrates both. I need to learn both. Washington also worked hard.
In every generation there are looters, moochers, and workers. May I always be a worker and honor workers.
Beck points out that an honest conversation can be hard to have.
People are always ready to jump on any word. I am not sure that news shows like his have not been part of the problem. Academic conversations are easy to grab out of context as many of us have experience. Still, it seems that usually Beck gets the gist right. Van Jones is a leftist and Beck is not wrong to call him one or use his words.
However, can talk radio allow for conversation that does not fall into tropes the listener expects? Can Beck maintain an audience if he departs from orthodoxies?
I don’t know. We may find out if he risks it.
(And now I break for some family time.)
11/26/2011 5:06 PM
Chapter 15: A Final Farewell
Washington went home having done his duty.
The “indispensable man” knew that the nation would eventually have to dispense with him and so he made us fit to exist without him.
Nothing much greater can be said about anybody.
I can hear Beck growing in this book. He could not fit he conventions of FOX, but he also has an undisciplined man. He is the sort of man who will hear out cranks, visionaries, and prophets. What will come of this? What if the dialectic could seize him and moderate him? What if he really became George Washington? Just that he picked Washington and praises his quiet and firm manner is either self-referentially incoherent or growth.
Could a talk-show host become the silent and moderate man?
This pathway might make Beck a good man at last or drive him mad, but it is an interesting road.
Washington’s wisdom in the Farewell Address is a very good roadmap.
However, it is hard to see how Beck squares his allegiance to Israel with it. Israel is a great ally and good friend of the United States, but at times Beck seems to give them a blank check.
Is that following Washington’s wisdom? Israel is not the United States or even equal to “the Jews.” Shouldn’t Americans act in their own interest?
Now in the Middle East that interest will often be with Israel. We must never allow the maniacs who would wipe Israel out to prevail, but prudence must dominate our thinking about the Middle East and not sentiment.
Beck highlights two facts that are important. First, rebellion when we still can vote and are still represented is wrong. Respect the law. Second, the Constitution is binding on us while we still can change it. We give our consent by living under it and reaping the profit.
I hope those on the more extreme right and left will listen to Beck.
If conservatives lose an election and were to rebel, conservatives would line up behind our President Obama to crush that rebellion. So long as my franchise and my right to worship God is protected, I must be peaceful and a man of hope.
That Washington freed all his slaves when he and his wife died was a credit to him. He lacked the courage to live without them, but he lacked the wicked heart to chain his heirs to the peculiarly evil institution.
I confess to having paused here and prayed that the soul of the Father of our country rest in peace.
11/26/2011 5:36 PM
Chapter 16: A Humble Agent of Heaven
Beck stresses Washington as a man of self-reliance and character. Beck urges people to prepare and also to help their neighbors. Beck urges rectitude and morality on us. He does not urge that government impose laws on us to make us good, but that we become good by following God.
He argues for the continued relevance of the Constitution of 1789.
Is there anything better for our age?
And yet, I speak as a fellow sinner, doesn’t Mr. Beck frequently break Washington’s rules of civility on his radio show? Doesn’t he?
Am I missing something here?
Is it ok to do on the radio what Washington never did in life?
God help me to be more consistent in my own expressions . . . . more civil.
11/26/2011 5:53 PM
Conclusion: True Greatness Lies in the Soul
The title is enough. That is right.
Service to the poor.
Country over party.
An appeal for Divine favor.
(At this point, Beck veers dangerously close to saying America is uniquely God’s country. There Lincoln would correct him. Only to the extent that we are good are we great, but that is true of Andorra.)
There is no credit to be gained in reviewing a Glenn Beck book, but I liked it and so I shall review it. Beck is one of the most interesting people out there . . . willing to try new things out. He is a kind of court jester to our public life, but the court jester was a truth teller not a clown.
Beck owes no elite anything.
My friends on the left will be dismayed I gave him any attention. To those folk, I plead that he is a man created in God’s image and if I can love and attend to the ideas of my enemies daily (from Marx to Nietzsche), I must surely attend to a compatriot.
Millions will read this book, more than will ever hear a word I say will listen to Beck, and that matters.
A few friends on the right will be dismayed that I have friends on the left. My parents raised me to distrust any person so narrow they could not find common cause with any decent person. I have no tolerance for the narrow.
A few friends on the right will be dismayed that I am critical of Beck, but I am at times. He seems too uncritical of certain ideas and too apt to trust cranks. The real treason of the clerks have left him rightly skeptical of academics, but left him too susceptible to the lightly read.
I believe he thinks hard enough to see through the cranks.
I also liked this book, though I am not its target audience. I hope nobody uses it as a text, but more than a few learn from it moderation, prudence, and an ability to get along with political rivals. Those are all lessons the book outlines.
This is not a work of history, but a civic hagiography.
Some use that as an insult, but I mean it as a complement. Washington was a great American and a decent man by the standards of his time. He was flawed, but most of us will never be as good.
Holding up this man as an example, without hiding those flaws, is a good thing and Beck is to be commended for doing it. Homeschool parents should NOT confuse this with history, go read a history book to get the grist for the mill, but an application of history.
Check out the facts on Washington. If Beck got some wrong, correct him, but don’t lose sight of the fact that history is for the living not the living for history. We must learn from history and to learn somebody must teach us lessons.
That Glenn Beck does it for millions tells us something about the impotence of our established educational institutions. They may do history well, but they don’t apply it or at least apply it in a way a traditional Americans can hear.
Can it be done better? Surely, for this book is too hastily written to be great. Could I do better? I have not yet, so I commend Beck for doing what he had done.
Did he have a ghost writer? If he did, I don’t know his or her name. I know who helped Washington write his Farwell. Can Beck tell us his helpers?
]]>The Many Talents of Mr. Gingrichhttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2011/11/the-many-talents-of-mr-gingrich
Fri, 18 Nov 2011 13:13:57 -0500Let me praise Newt Gingrich.
When nobody else could imagine a Republican House majority, New Gingrich saw it and made it so. If you are a backbench legislator doomed to decades in the minority, Gingrich is just the bomb thrower and innovator you need.
If a student finds history boring, Professor Gingrich will make it exciting. He will gallop across ideas until any dullard can see why old events still matter today. Professor Newt may not always be right, and one can question some of his connections, but nobody will leave class without knowing history counts.
If a radio show needs a guest with a comment on anything, Newt Gingrich is ready. He has thought about most things and can speak about all things. Gingrich may have a face made for radio, but even on television he has a crafted soundbite to sum up the world.
If the Republican Party needs a senior statesman to remind her of her better days, then Newt Gingrich can help. He remembers every day of the Republican Revolution as only an insider can.
If a conservative project needs a pitchman or an interest a lobbyist, Gingrich is effective. He has contacts all over Washington and will give a decent days lobbying for a good days pay.
In fact, there are so many things Gingrich can do that it is easy to forget that there are a few things he cannot do. He cannot use the bully pulpit to renew marriage, because he has been no gentleman. We have had cads, and recovered cads, in the White House, but nobody should vote for one knowingly.
As a sinner saved by grace, I need mercy and hope for it, but putting a man in the White House is not a necessary sign of our tolerance and mercy.
Gingrich cannot manage an office let alone a country. He has a record of creating chaos wherever he goes and running through staff like Sherman ran through Georgia. He was ineffectual as a leader of the Republican Party, routinely getting schooled by Bill Clinton. He does not finish what he starts, flitting from project to project.
Newt Gingrich has become a corporation in himself. He has done whatever he could to monetize his every breath. It it is a free market and he has a right do so, but as Palin and Trump discovered, we want our leaders like Lincoln and not Gantry. Lincoln did well by doing good, but he never wanted to be rich.
One cannot say the same for Gingrich.
Gingrich often has the right ideas, but he seldom incarnates them.
Newt Gingrich is fit for many things, but he is unfit to serve as President of the United States. He will never get my vote, but I look forward to seeing him again in the many roles for which his decisions and talents have so finely fitted him to serve.
]]>What Lincoln Taught Mehttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2011/11/what-lincoln-taught-me
Sun, 13 Nov 2011 12:12:25 -0500God has opinions about human affairs, but His opinions are not easy for any human to see.
Abraham Lincoln faced the Civil War, the greatest test the American Republic has endured, but he was not foolish enough to assume the government was on God’s side. In his Second Inaugural Address Lincoln pointed out that both sides asked God’s help and, “The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully.”
“The Almighty has His own purposes.”
Lincoln did not hesitate in judging the institution of slavery: it was immoral. He knew that rebellion and disunion, corrupted by a peculiar connection to slavery, was intolerable, but he also knew that the Union was not guiltless. The Constitution had tolerated slavery and the Union had profited from the unpaid work of slaves forced from them by the lash of the masters.
The factories that churned out the Northern arms were not models of equality or justice.
Saying that God Almighty was not “on the side” of the Union is just American Civics 101. Lincoln taught Americans that we must invoke God’s aid, but do so with humility. We can fight for justice, but with charity toward all. Our cause may be righteous, but we are not.
Lincoln accepted that the City of God and the City of Man never fully overlap. Subjects of King Jesus are always in tension with the demands of being a citizen of the Republic. This is not God’s nation (though it is His country), but this side of Paradise I am a member of the American commonwealth. When the judgment comes and all tribes and nations stand before the Almighty, I will stand with shame and pride before His throne as an American.
Practically speaking, this will matter in my vote for President of the United States. I am confident of the righteousness of the pro-life cause and of the morality of traditional marriage. My cause is just, but those are not the only issues that will be decided in the next great election.
And no party, certainly not the Republican Party, is righteous, because I am in it and I am not righteous. I stand before God imperfect and His judgments, with eternity in mind, are inscrutable. Many a slave owner was just in some area of his life not related to slavery; many a pro-choicer may be more loving than I in many ways not related to abortion.
Otherwise just men end up in unjust causes.
So I must press on with humility to do right as God gives me to see the right. For most of us, the realization that there are righteous causes, such as conservation, but no simple “bad guys” to oppose leads to impotence. Lincoln had no malice and great charity, but ran the largest armed force on the planet to do justice.
He was willing to act with determination, but not with ego. As a result, Lincoln was no tyrant and the bad he did, such as suspending some civil liberties, died with him, but his righteous causes, Union and liberty, lived to inspire other great men and women.
Let’s vote and disagree with this in mind. Our foes are wrong, but they are not Satan’s minions. We are not angels of God, but merely people sullying the flag by our raising it. “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in . . . “
]]>Proud of the Union Labelhttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2011/11/proud-of-the-union-label
Wed, 09 Nov 2011 12:38:07 -0500Christians love unions and conservatives should as well.
From Poland to West Virginia, unions, organized workers, have checked the power of tyrants and helped working people.
This is obvious. It is equally clear that any group is corrupted when it becomes too powerful. Unions in the United States helping working people, but then lost sight of reality and the needs of the workers when they gained some of their first goals.
They asked for too much and did not adapt to a global economy. They also became too tied to “progressive” politics, even when those politics had nothing to do with union issues. (Abortion is the best example.)
As a result, unions gained a bad odor amongst traditionalists, but perhaps this has now gone too far into a reflexive anti-union bias. As the grandson of two union men, and the son-in-law of another, I have seen the benefits unions give workers as well as the down sides. Reagan was right: unions are good for America.
Powerful people often let down workers and that is true of union leaders and business tycoons. Traditional conservatives should put no more faith in the rich businessman than they do in the union boss, but of late I have noticed we often do.
In the private sector at least, the scales are now tipped against organized workers. Partly this is the fault of the unions themselves, but it is also the result of too much magical thinking from conservatives.
We are right to trust free markets to correct themselves. Mostly this must be allowed, but we are wrong (as Christians) to allow the full measure of human suffering that such corrections can produce. The “redundant” worker may eventually get a better job if the free market is allowed to work, but it will not help him if his lack of a paycheck has ruined his health and his family.
Traditionalists have long supported a social safety net to ease the free market transitions. In some areas, this net has become a trap, but in others it has become too weak. Workers feel powerless, because in many cases they are.
Eventually bad businesses are punished by the market, but this retribution can come too late for the patience of the working class. Justice unfelt or unseen is justice too late to save a republic from the seductive force of tyrants on the right and left.
I think workers recognize this fact and this explains the lopsided win in Ohio for public unions. Public unions are, oddly, too powerful and are threatening the health of state finances, but the public sector is one of the few places where this can be said. Public workers also include teachers and public safety officials nobody thinks are overpaid outside of esoteric think tanks.
It is time for conservatives to begin supporting a new union movement . . . one untied to old organizations tainted by scandal, the mob, graft, and burdened with the past.
Unions have done great good and their relative weakness is not good for our Republic.
]]>Do Not Praise With Faint Damnshttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2011/11/do-not-praise-with-faint-damns
Wed, 09 Nov 2011 12:24:20 -0500Whatever the merits of the complaints against Hermann Cain conservatives should not make the mistake of minimizing the harm done by sexual harassment. In a few places, I have read good-hearted folk misunderstanding the entire issue.
They act as if there is no moral issue to sexual harassment at all. You would think the problem was dreamed up by trial lawyers merely to sue innocent companies. Watching even a few “Perry Mason” episodes (to cite a “harmless” example) reminds a person of how safe it was to marginalize female associates and reduce them to a “honey” or “sweetie.” I worked in a plant where female employees, and those of us wishing to be moral, were forced to look at porn pinups hanging in prominent places.
Surely ending this was a good thing?
Not all changes in the culture are bad and one good one is that sexual harassment is more widely viewed as bad. We are all trying to be better people in this area.
Of course, good people at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles long ago understood that the workplace or a ministry was not a place for some kinds of private behavior. At their best, these great people had a higher standard than our own: demanding that talk be noble, good, true, and beautiful.
No Christian ever defended crude and intentionally demeaning language.
Still too often “boys were allowed to be boys” or stereotypes that did not transgress piety were allowed. This did not help “boys” or anybody else. No society can afford to marginalize talented people or put them in a hostile workplace.
People in my generation had and still have to learn this lesson.
It seems so obvious to say, but still it is worth repeating: sexual harassment is bad.
Of course that means that a false accusation is also bad or that trivializing real sexual harassment is equally harmful. However, there is little evidence that such trivialization happens as often as the vice itself or some people fear.
Nor is the fact that some media figures or ideologues have cried “wolf” at innocent men make real wolves any less dangerous. Power mongers will make any cause, no matter how noble, a means to get influence and money.
However, one views “feminism” or however one thinks sexual harassment should be handled, it is wrong. It is not, thank God, and unpardonable sin, but wrong it is. In this area, like many others, doing the wrong thing, repenting, and making amends must be possible. None of us is perfect and I certainly wish to judge with mercy as I hope to be judged when I make mistakes.
By the 1990’s any business leader like Cain knew the rules had changed. Even if you did not agree with all the methods used to bring about positive change, nobody of sense defended sexual harassment as necessary to do business. It isn’t. Cain was not working in Perry Mason’s America, or he would not have been the head of any powerful association.
If he was guilty, then it reflects on his judgment. Depending on the severity of the offense, it might be forgivable, but not of course if he merely denies it. How can one learn through denial?
Again, I am not judging Cain’s innocence or guilt merely pointing out that nobody should defend him by minimizing the harm of what he did. We will never elect a perfect person president. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were great leaders that did bad things by our standards and by the timeless standards of Christianity. A wise voter, however, voted for Washington or Lincoln despite their vices, not because of them. We cannot praise good men by faint damns of their evils.
We don’t do anything for Washington by minimizing the evils of his owning slaves. We don’t justify Lincoln by pretending that some of his abuse of civil liberties in pursuing the War was not bad. Republican voters will have to decide if Cain did what he now denies and how severe this fault is.
We should not pretend that sexual harassment is not wrong or unimportant.
]]>On Biblical Authorityhttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2011/10/on-biblical-authority
Sun, 30 Oct 2011 16:30:52 -0400As a Biblical Christian, people worry that this will keep me from changing my mind. Since open-mindedness is often a good thing, they worry about me.
Will I defy the evidence or facts in order to cling to Scripture?
I will not, but perhaps merely saying so will not satisfy their just worries. Let me, therefore, explain.
I have had religious experiences, including an experience of the Divine. These experiences require explanation and so I try to understand them instead of ignoring them. The Bible seems to describe my situation best and it also contains wisdom I had not anticipated.
Following the commands of Scripture with reason leads me to further spiritual insights and guards against spiritual stupidity. Scripture commends reason to me, but it also bids me love.
The Bible is, of course, a complex set of books. It cannot be read easily, because it is an ancient text and I am not (despite the feeling in my knees) an ancient man. If the “facts” contradict Scripture, often I find that my reading of Scripture was simplistic or just wrong.
Of course, sometimes this is not true. What do I do then? Best reading of an otherwise trustworthy authority on spiritual matters says one thing and the “facts” another.
I keep putting “facts” in quotations because I often find that things said to be facts are really the interpretation of facts. A bit of patience on my part often reveals hidden assumptions behind the reported “fact of the matter.”
Even my friends sometimes make the mistake of asserting that because a thing is it ought to be. I have no patience with that argument until some lover of wisdom shows me how is leads to ought. That man is the way he is, is true, that they ought to be is more controversial!
Still there are some situations where I am left thinking: “Without Scripture, I would not believe this.” The difficulty is that history shows that people in my position that waited often were vindicated. Scripture is attacked in every age, but by new ideas. The old attacker fades away, but Scripture endures. This gives me some good reason to wait and see what will happen.
I can suspend judgment in an area without abandoning my general faith in Scripture.
In the end I have yet to find a situation where Scripture cannot function reasonably as “the only rule of faith and practice.” If I make of it what it is not, then it might fail me, but if I submit to it as it was written, it works so far.
Might I change my mind?
I might, but I am skeptical I will based on my best experience and my best reasoning.
]]>Empty the Closets: All of Themhttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2011/10/empty-the-closets-all-of-them
Tue, 25 Oct 2011 00:08:46 -0400Sometimes my friends think I wish to go back to the days when people with a homosexual orientation were in a “closet.”
I am glad those days are over. I have no wish to return to them.
Closets are for clothes and not for people. Nobody should be forced to hide their nature and no Christian should be shocked to discover the diversity out there.
Sin is sin. I think homosexual actions, like any sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman, is sin. I think masturbation is a sin, but I don’t think people who struggle not to do it should hide their struggles.
That people who struggled with temptation to a particular sin felt the need to hide it from the community of faith did not help them deal with their particular “thorn in the flesh.” In fact, to hide a temptation frequently enables acting on the temptation. To reveal the proclivity helps the community work with the person to avoid the temptation.
Too often the church community would be “shocked” to discover Bob was tempted by homosexual desire, but not at all shocked by Bob’s abusive temper. He would be fired for the first from any church job (especially if he faltered), but not for repeated examples of brow beating.
No wonder Bob hid his temptations.
The church I attend is open to all of us that struggle, but struggle with hope for liberty from vice. My church knows that some members have same sex attraction and that some members are discontent in their marriages. It acknowledges any number of ways we fall short of our goal. We confess our sins one to another.
We judge the sin as sin and the sinner as a sinner. We don’t stop there.
We pray for mercy as we have received mercy. The closet, hidden sin, is wrong. The Lord Jesus points out that every hidden thing will be revealed. The future of the Church is not a return to the closet, but a blessed release from that bad, un-Christian system to real holiness.
]]>One Dogma of Evangelicalism https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2011/10/one-dogma-of-evangelicalism
Wed, 12 Oct 2011 18:44:42 -0400A common criticism of Evangelicals is that we are dogmatic. Since we do in fact have dogma, this would appear fatal. If you don’t like dogma, you will not like us.
It does not help to point out that non-Evangelicals also have dogma.
People don’t just dislike dogmatic Evangelicals, they are happy to dislike dogmatic Catholics and Episcopalians as well. It is just in the latter case that worrying about meeting a dogmatic Anglican is akin to worrying about being hit by a meteorite.
It happens, but rarely enough to be more a wonder than a terror.
It is true that secular society has dogmas, but these dogmas are not offensive, because Americans think they are based on “reason” or “science.” One should not throw battery acid into the ocean. Why not? Science says so as well as reason.
One might assume that showing the critic that “science” cannot produce an” ought” might help our situation, but it does not. The key advantage to their moral claims (“ought”) is the alleged openness to change. Science gives the facts about the ocean and then reasonable people decide what is best based on “reasonable” assumptions. If one questions these assumptions, the listener’s eyes glaze over with weariness.
Who would question reasonable assumptions?
It is easy to be critical of these attitudes, but not very productive. Instead, we should admit that “dogma” is not presented as we use it. Sometimes our public voice sounds as if “dogma” tells us where we dare not go, not jumping off points for wonder and intellectual speculation.
My experience has shown that just pointing out that “dogma” has been the product of intellectual speculation helps. I also argue that Evangelicals are open to changing “dogma,” but not if the arguments heard are just a repeat of old failed arguments. The mind of the Church has been persuaded of certain things, such as two natures of Christ, but who would not wish to hear a new metaphor or new approach?
The main benefit of dogmas, the laws revealed or discovered about the supernatural world, is that it allows us to discover new truths. We do not repeat discussions over and over, but can move forward to see deeper depths in the unlimited nature of God. High fantasy eventually fails us in the wonder of His Being, but each generation can stretch forward a bit more.
Augustine to Dante marked improvements in our vision! Of course, we must digest what Dante said and nobody agrees with all of it.
Dogma is not mostly a fort to hide inside, but a home base for intellectual adventure. Perhaps, we are not always good at demonstrating the liberating nature of dogma.
]]>Farewell “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2011/10/farewell-dont-ask-dont-tell
Wed, 05 Oct 2011 17:11:28 -0400Am I the only full-blooded social conservative to be glad to see an end to “don’t ask, don’t tell?”
The policy seemed designed to encourage deceit and place military men and women in a position to be blackmailed.
If homosexual practice is a vice, then it is incompatible with being an “officer and a gentleman/lady,” but I do not see that we have ever required very genteel behavior from our officers. Surely if we were not going to discharge those soliciting prostitutes abroad, then it was hypocritical to remove those engaged in this particular vice?
I think homosexual behavior is morally wrong. It is dangerous, however, to make every wrong the basis of employment or participation in parts of society. Just as all vices need not be illegal, all vices are not relevant to all jobs.
I also have no background in the military and must be open to the idea that certain vices are particularly onerous in combat zones, but the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was pure Clinton. It was a policy built on lies and lies make rational decision making hard.
Let’s assume contexts exist where serving with a homosexual person is difficult. Surely many in a unit would know or guess the “not telling” person’s orientation? If serving with a practicing homosexual is a problem in some contexts, then isn’t it better to know when those contexts occur than have to guess?
If there are good reasons that make this particular vice incompatible with military service, then I do not understand the historic success of the British navy. Churchill assures his readers that the Royal Navy could not have expelled every person participating in it.
Of course, one potential problem is that the military will now demand all members approve of homosexual behavior. I trust not. Ignoring vice not relevant to service is one thing, but forcing religious people to approve of it is another. That is the place to fight on this issue, I think.