Ideas and imagination, history and judgment

You know your problem? You live in a culture which does not take ideas seriously. It does not believe that anyone lives or dies or kills themselves for an idea. But people do. A vision inspires them. Their imagination drives them. Whether the revolution they are looking for is going to bring about the Post-Carbon future or a universal Caliphate, it is this vision and their imagination that moves them. They hold out against the dominant but dismal idea that what we want is determined by what our bodies need, or by what our gender or class or ethnicity demands. Islamicists and all other Utopians are driven by their imagination. They assume that ideas and freedom are more important than our stomachs. You Westerners believe that we are propelled only by our material interests, and that every idea is cloak for the truth of the base appetites beneath. We live in a very pessimistic society, a lot of Gnostic and Manichean stuff undiagnosed out there. We live in a culture that does not believe in culture. Which is why it despises Christians. A notice on the door of St Mary Aldermanbury advertises a talk entitled ‘Why are Christians Strange?’ How deeply we Christians have internalised other people’s perplexities and resentments. But is it really good for them that we should do so? ‘Why don’t Christians fall into line?’, ‘Why don’t they think like the rest of us, ‘Why don’t we make them behave like the rest of us.’ Put that monastic home-spun on again, you Christians, and practise your hymns, for your time will soon be here.
Niall Ferguson talked to audience of merchant bankers in St Paul’s Cathedral last night, one of the many launches of his biog of Siegmund Warburg. The title he gave himself was ‘Men, Morality and Money.’ Ferguson’s line was that when a boy, Warburg’s Mama made him pray every night, and before doing so, examine himself to find the errors and omissions of the day. Warburg thus remained a very moral man, the very model of ‘relationships banking’ rather than ‘transactions banking’. Go and do likewise, was Ferguson’s understated message to the assembled bankers. One reason that we have a financial crisis he said is that financiers don’t read history, even financial history, so never imagine (again, imagination) that their actions have consequences which may rebound on them, and that from time to time in human affairs things get rough. Warburg was a responsible banker because he, almost alone, escaped the political consequences of the economic collapse of Weimar to epitomise the old-fashioned banking of the City of London pre-the big bang. Today’s bankers are too young to remember even the 27% inflation and power-cuts of the Nineteen-Seventies. Something to look forward to.
Though Ferguson is a performer, the echo created by the architecture of that vast building meant that his voice cancelled itself out, making him scarcely audible. That building does not allow you to understate and remain subtle. You cannot offer morality ironically there. You have to give judgment, intoning slowly. Ferguson and the bankers and I were all under the judgment seat of Christ, sitting in the great cross which is the transept. Ferguson, or any one of us, can simply ask ‘Have we all done something very foolish? Have we done something that endangers our economy and our society? Have we made it more likely that the next generation will have less opportunity to live in an open economy and society than we have had? What resources does the Gospel give us to weigh these questions?’
You make no cultural contribution by talking about culture or history or morality. You have to begin with judgment. You can talk about the judgment of our successors on us, and indeed our own likely judgment when in twenty years’ time we look back on our present selves. And you can talk about the judgment of God. If you want to make a contribution, begin with the Christian faith and stay with it. Only by saying what the gospel is are we able to secure our hold on any of the cultural by-products – the political liberty that enables the free market – enjoyed by the majority who wish to remain Christianity’s cultural free-riders. You like freedom, freedom to trade? Be a Christian. Be a Jew. Someone asked Ferguson about Islamic finance, and after saying something affirming, he said that Islam was the greatest single threat to freedom and civilisation. If the assembled financiers were tired of freedom and civilisation they should simply carry on as they are and events will do the rest…

Jerusalem

States are not founded on social contracts, protection of the individual, or any such idiocy handed down from Hobbes; they are founded upon congregations, as Augustine explained in the City of God. It is not common interest but common love that defines states. We do not have a “selfâ€? interest as such; our “selfâ€? belongs to our ancestors and our children, unless, of course, we are contemporary Europeans, who despise our ancestors and have no children, and hope to pass into extinction with the minimum of bother.
From Jerusalem came the most persuasive promise humankind had ever heard, namely the promise of eternal life–not the fragile immortality of the pagan gods, whose doom already was sealed by fate in the myths of all the peoples, but life with God past the dissolution of the physical world. The world will wear out and God will discard it like a cloak, Psalm 102 sings, but the Lord will establish his servants forever.
The history of Israel is the history of the world, said Franz Rosenzweig, for as soon as the peoples learned that the God of the Jews had promised them eternal life, they considered how they, too, might become part of this covenant. The Christians emulate us and the Muslims parody us. I use the word “emulationâ€? with respect: as Jacob Neusner observes (and Benedict XVI quotes him), when Jesus declares himself to be Lord of the Sabbath in Matthew, he in effect proposes to make Temple and Sabbath accessible to non-Jews. The truth of this proposition or its ultimate efficacy is another matter, but there is no doubt in my mind that orthodox Christians seek the loving Creator God of the Jews. Islam is a different issue: it maintains outward forms similar to Judaism which enclose an inner pagan content.
The passions that rage over Jerusalem reveal the desire for immortality that underlies all of politics. Humankind does not want safety, security, sustenance as much as it wants to cheat death. Islam’s claim to credibility is that it represents the final prophecy, which has corrected falsified and distorted Scriptures prepared by those sneaky Jews and Christians. It does not want to appropriate the Bible, but rather loot it and leave the discredited shell behind.
David Goldman Eternal Jerusalem

Is our affirmation your right?

Rusty Reno on an emerging right to cultural approval and endorsement in Marriage, Morality and Culture

The controversial question of same-sex marriage marks decisive new phase in our cultural drive toward an every deeper freedom to live as one pleases. Freedom from censure is no longer sufficient. Today, we see an emerging right to cultural approval and endorsement… Our present and widespread social censure of moral censure inculcates and reinforces a non-judgmental ethos. Now we are embarking on a much more aggressive program. Everybody should have access to the cultural symbols of affirmation. …
But we cannot turn culture into the equivalent of a public access channel. As Aristotle explained in his account of moral formation and human flourishing, culture humanizes us by demanding our obedience. Happiness does not come from living according to your desires. It comes from desiring to live according to demanding and disciplining social norms that transcend individual desires….It is sociologically incoherent to imagine that we can both radically redefine marriage and transfer its “transcendent, cultural, and social significanceâ€? to same-sex couples, as if the former does not alter and undermine the later.

Empedocles at A Pox on Both Your Houses is on the same theme with Social historical kinds and Marriage

The question we must ask is not what is the definition of marriage, but what is its function. The function of marriage is to provide an environment for he successful raising of children. This is the only explanation that accords with its historical origins (although the forms it has taken through the centuries has differed). And as I mentioned, for each function there will be attendant virtues. Love is the primary virtue of marriage; it is what allows a marriage to perform its function of providing an environment that is safe, stable, healthy, and nurturing for children to be born into. There are other virtues in addition to love that allow a marriage to perform its function: having the means to support the child…

and Multicultural elitism

Multiculturalism would say that it is the majority that must give up their cultural practice and adopt the practice of the minority group, that unless the majority accommodates the cultural practice of the minority, some moral evil has occurred. Thus we see all these ridiculous efforts in the western world to appease other cultures by abandoning their own cultural practice and accepting practices and demands that they would normally not…. Multiculturalism, thus requires that everyone else remain monocultural while we good multiculturalists float above all cultures, enjoying all the various cultural production of the Earth. And so multiculturalism requires a two-tiered system: a foundation of monocultures, and an upper-crust of those multiculturalists who do the celebrating of diversity….despite multiculturalism’s egalitarian rhetoric, it is in fact an elitist ideology, requiring two separate systems in order to exist.

Jackson Eskew

This blog is a fan of Amazon reviewer Jackson Eskew. His Guides and Lists are full of wonders, many discoveries, others just long forgotten. My favourite list is Mustapha Mond is now President

America has elected Mustapha Mond as its President. It isn’t surprising; the breakdown has long since prepared the way for this catastrophe. No, this man didn’t have to stage a coup. He was actually elected. Applauded. Embraced. Tears flowed. For Mond is the apotheosis of Hope (one of the three theological virtues, note well) for a godless world. Yes, he’s hailed as a kind of neopagan messiah. He accordingly promises bread and circuses – and much death (haven’t heard of FOCA yet? You will). And this is applauded.

Mustapha Mond is the World Controller in Huxley’s Brave New World

Here is Jackson reviewing Amazon’s own Kindle device:

While its novelty is undeniably dazzling, novelty is neither a necessary nor a sufficient ground for embracing a thing. Our consumerist age has, alas, largely forgotten this, just as it’s forgotten that convenience isn’t always rightly a supreme criterion of value. In spite of Jeff Bezos’s crusade to annihilate physical books, along with the thick vapor of chronological snobbery in which this crusade breathes its lifeblood, they’ll likely be around for some time to come, though possibly with a radically reduced readership. This is because many people, like me, still refuse to run with the herd. We decline, for example, to brand ourselves with tattoos, we’ll never become obedient subjects of today’s dictatorship of relativism, and we definitely prefer the materiality of actual books. Why? Because we sense today’s renunciation of the incarnational that increased digitization represents as the antiseptic stench of this age’s dread spirit. Fundamentally, we see it as yet another form of this dead age’s rejection of the Logos; that is, as yet another mutiny against the very ground of our being.

St Paul's Economics debate

My word is my bond? Rebuilding trust – the G20 and beyond
St Paul’s Cathedral Tuesday 31st March, 2009, 11am – 12.30pm

On the eve of the G20, St Paul’s is hosting a high level debate about the moral questions raised by the dramatically changing world we find ourselves in. Can opportunities for society’s good come from the economic crisis? Has there been a disconnection between morality, policy-making and practice? What are the prospects for remaking the global order, rebuilding financial systems and re-establishing trust? How will a new global order actively include development goals and address climate change?

Pause

Sorry, a blog pause appeared there. A sign that some work is underway I always think. I am following Rod Dreher, like everybody else. But if you are desperate for something to read you could have a look at my latest work-in-progress dump at at Scribd. The theological discussion of economics is presently masquerading as Lent talks – skip the first one, which just sets the scene.

Family law voided of moral judgment

These cases are not aberrations. They are the outcome of a process that has been going on for the past three decades and more, in which the fundamental values of civilised society have been systematically trashed and up-ended. They are the result of the doctrine that all lifestyles must be considered equal and that no one has right to pass judgment on anyone else. Thus, women had a God-given right to bear babies out of wedlock. Stigma and shame were considered an affront to individual rights; disapproval of adultery or elective lone parenthood were dismissed as ‘Old Testament fundamentalism’.
Government policy, egged on by activist judges who deliberately voided family law of ‘moral judgments’ on the basis that there was no right or wrong in family life because it was always just too complicated to untangle, accordingly penalised marriage, rewarded adultery, further incentivised lone parenthood and systematically normalised irregular relationships.
The outcome is a shattered social landscape of lost and abandoned children, raised in households of gross emotional chaos and physical and moral squalor. Ignoring the fact that this underclass has become detached from the most basic values of civilised life, the so-called progressive intelligentsia declares that its only problem is ‘poverty’. Accordingly, it has supplied lone mothers with benefits on the basis that they were most in need. The result has been financial incentives for unmarried women to have multiple children – whose primary need was to have a committed father and stable family life, the very need government policy ensured would never be met.

Melanie Phillips The barbarism of ideologues

Knight in America

I had a great ten days in the US. It started with the SBL at Boston, bumping into the usual serendity of people – Tom Wright, Neil MacDonald, Doug Campbell, Alan Garrow, Mark Elliott, caught up with Murray Rae, roomed with Luke Tallon and Dan Driver and met some of their talented St Andrews mates. Lots of theological exegesis going on: I was impressed by Edith Humphrey and then by Peter Leithart on typological exegesis of the Book of Ruth. Ephraim Radner was there but gave me the slip.

Then on to Justyn Terry at Trinity Evangelical School for Ministry at Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving. The college was quiet so didn’t get to meet local heroes Bill Witt or Leander Harding, but I’m hoping they will invite me back. We went to service for Pittsburgh’s 250 year anniversary at the Cathedral Church with Bishop Bob Duncan, apparently not ‘deposed’ so no unseemly fight between bishops for the throne. From Justyn’s account both sides of the Episcopalian ruck seem to understand the Church as a corporation, with Presiding Bishop as CEO, bishops as the branch managers that can be sacked – so the churches, that is, actual Christians, would then be employees perhaps, or consumers? A properly ‘episcopalian’ church would understand that a bishop is king in his own diocese, his relationship with the people of the church in his city indissoluble, so that any other jurisdiction such as province or national church is not higher but simply honorary. Anyway, a wonderful time with the Terry family, while writing my piece for Princeton

Then Princeton and the new Institute for Theological Inquiry which had set us the task of talking about Covenant and the Human Future. Supper and (Episcopalian) Church with the Jensons. I was crushed to find that Jean Bethke Elshtain had withdrawn: her vast output anticipates most of my proposal. I want to produce my theological economics book along with new stuff, on the long-term political-and-demographic result of the dissolution of marriage, which Allan Carlson of the Howard Center is doing, as is Elshtain. A very mixed but also quite elderly company, Darlene Weaver and Gerald McDermott the exceptions, and one of the rabbis one was certainly impressive, but it is not easy to see what will emerge from this. Saw a lot of Rusty Reno, who was being extra-irenic and refused to reveal the identity of Spengler, my new hero, and on to a Madison symposium chaired by Robert George on Eric Cohen’s In the Shadow of Progress

Why are the wealthiest people in human history the least likely to want children? What kind of civilization will we become if we seek cures for the sick by destroying human embryos?

Also found Ben Myers, who has been working away on the Jenson book after all, I was very relieved to find. All in the US were very relaxed about political and economic developments, but here it feels as though we are about to disappear into the maelstrom, so not at all relaxed, but dithering between continuing the effort to interest London diocese clergy in their faith while working towards a marriage institute, and running away to Scottish island monastery.

A long sea change in culture

The times dictate that we strive all the more diligently to emphasize the unchanging teachings of the creeds and the longstanding moral consensus of the church on matters under demonic seige these days: nothing less than the abolition of man seems underway, though we know that that project ultimately is doomed.

We also know that Christians around the world are being persecuted and that we must stand in solidarity with them. Whether persecution reaches those who do not expect it or not remains to be seen. We can only be ready.

It is all too apparent that a long sea change in culture – primarily in the concept of “family” broadly understood (i.e., sex, marriage, procreation, child-rearing, education, etc) – has rendered much (not all) of the church’s witness in the West anemic and hardly fruitful, because so many have gone along with much of it by slow degrees over many decades. What is the real difference between a typical Christian and a comfortable secularist American? And beyond this, in some cases the witness in some “churches” has really become anti-christ, apostate.

Mere Comments

Covenant, future, any other matters

The Institute for Theological Inquiry (ITI) is an ongoing theological enterprise that is a division of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation in Efrat. Its American partner is the Witherspoon Institute of Princeton, New Jersey. The Institutes objective is to engage world-class theologians to break new theological ground on focused research projects in areas critical to Judaism, Christianity and world culture. Through its research, ITIs aims to develop rich new foundations for cooperative Jewish-Christian understanding, as well as spiritual and moral values that will bear on global religious, cultural and political life in the 21st century.