Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Silly Season: Fearless Political Prognostications for 2012

With a little over a year and a half before the next Presidential election, I thought I would have a little fun with the current crop of aspirants. Of course this time around, all the buzz will be on the right, which will be righter right than it has been in quite some time. And while no one has yet announced, the race is clearly underway. The lead pack--Newt, Haley, Sarah, Mike, the Donald, Michelle, Rick and Herman-- has already swarmed Iowa, where they are all busy burnishing-up their birther creds.

Newt keeps the hypocrisy meter spinning, and can say with Groucho Marx: "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."

Haley is a GOP candidate right out of Democratic Central Casting.

Were Mike to be elected, the inauguration would have to be in Jerusalem.

And the Donald...well, as a born-again birther, he has been making the rounds, giving his testimony. I watched a clip of a recent interview he had with Bill O'Reilly. The Donald scoffed at the idea that the family would place a notice announcing little Barack's birth in the Honolulu newspaper, noting that "even the Rockefellers don't do that." Well, Donald, maybe the Rockefellers do not, and maybe your other neighbors on the Upper West Side do not, but in real world America, this practice was commonplace for many decades. The announcements were a public service, and the general practice was for the hospital to release the information to the local paper if so desired. The Donald doesn't mind being the butt of jokes when he is in on the joke, but here he appears clueless. But with 51% of GOP primary voters believing this fantasy, this may be a wise move for Iowa, where the percentage is no doubt much higher.

With these guys in the running, it has had the unintended consequence of making Michelle seem a bit saner.

None of these Dancing Demagogues could remotely win the GOP nomination, unless the Tea Party crowd totally subsumes the Establishment Republicans. What they are doing, however, is using up all the oxygen in the room and preventing any traction for the Sane and Sensible Centrists. For the life of me, I had trouble coming up with any candidates for this category--John H., I suppose; Mitch, who is probably not running anyway, and Ron P. when he is talking foreign policy.

The final category is the Establishment Electables, consisting of only Tim and Mitt. Tim would like to play with the Dancing Demagogues, but cannot yet bring himself to go the birther route. He is certainly trying to compensate, however, with his wild-eyed foreign policy proposals. But at the end of the day, he is even more boring than mild-mannered Mitt. And besides, it is Mitt's turn, a cherished GOP tradition.

So there you have it--it'll be Mitt vs. Barack. Oh yeah, and the VP nominee will be Marco Rubio, protestations to the contrary.

I am not one of these people who can take the high road and disregard it all for the foolishness it is. I am hard-wired for voting, and will do so as long as I am able. I do not think I will live long enough, however, for the GOP to ever convince me to vote their way again. But, if they were to do so, they would first have to nominate a candidate that did not insult my intelligence. So, that particular moral conundrum is at least 5 years out.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Unlikely Headlines


National Tea Party Leaders Endorse Obama Re-election Bid

Up: The New Down

Pope Benedict Confesses to being Closet Methodist

Mike Huckabee Exposed as Secret Hamas Agent

And then there is this:

Calvinism Declared by the Church Fathers

Such a claim can be found here. The author maintains that Calvinism, as it has come to be called, is simply a nickname for historical Christianity. But, of course. Although I do not really follow Calvinism, or neo-Calvinism, I have a vague recognition that it is enjoying something of a boomlet here in recent years. Even so, this seems like a new tact.

A writer over at Orthodox Apologetics, among others, is taking such bold-faced revisionism to task. He notes (rightly) that a bit of context and sourcing would have been nice for the carefully cherry-picked quotations assembled by the Calvinist site.

Say what you will about Calvinism, but don't blame it on the Church Fathers!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

New Book by Fr. Alexis Trader

I am pleased to pass along news of a new book by Fr. Alexis Trader. The premise certainly sounds interesting. Fr. Alexis explains about the book on guest blogs here and here. By all means, check out what Fr. Alexis has to say.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The False Dream

I have never been one to speak of the "American Dream." I was always a bit skeptical of the concept, and thought it silly to collectively define ourselves by some "dream." The phrase is often utilized by politicians on the make and other demagogues. If someone is talking about the American Dream, you can generally expect it to be accompanied by flag-waving, cheap sentimentality and appeals to questionable historicism.

As I understand it, the "Dream" is simply the belief that each generation of Americans will enjoy a richer, more prosperous life than their parents--bigger, better, more. And that is supposed to be good thing--never mind the social, cultural, moral, financial and ecological wreckage resulting from 65 years of unrestrained consumerism. And yet, I am not convinced that this was necessarily the "dream" of our forebears. We Americans have always been money-crazy, to be sure (if you have any doubts, just brush up on your de Tocqueville.) But I think earlier generations simply wanted to make a good life for themselves. And they wanted their children to have a good life as well. The idea that each succeeding generation must be more prosperous and comfortable than the one before is very much a child of the 20th-century, I think. The hard times of the Depression years and the sacrifices during the Second World War gave way to a new era, one where, buoyed by incredible technical advances, America found itself at the top of the world. Americans seemed ready and eager to make up for lost time, hence the "Dream."

My parents fell in with most everyone else during that time. My dad and mother started off with absolutely nothing, and with no resources to fall back upon. But they knew how to work hard, and my dad knew how to put things together. In 1953, they built the big house -(for that day.) In 1963, they bought the first Cadillac--which they used to go on our first vacation. But having known poverty, they were never comfortable with any type of outward show of wealth. We always kept chickens, milked cows and had a big garden. My mother spent the summers working in the garden and canning. My dad always seemed to have a bunch of hay on the ground. Growing up, I suppose my "dream" was a summer not spent in the hayfield. About 1960 or 61, pursuit of the American Dream meant that my dad bought a Yellow Jacket ski boat for my brother who was in high school at the time. This was back in the day when such boats were still wooden, and I will have to say that it was a sharp looking outfit. Very young at the time, I vaguely remember being on the lake in the boat a couple of times at best. But one of those times stands out in my memory, for on that occasion I watched as my nearly 50-year old father tried his hand at water-skiing. Of all the images I have of my dad, this is one that clearly does not fit! Pursuit of the American Dream can put you in odd places. Looking back, I can see where I bought into it at times, myself. (I will, ahem, skip over the ridiculous places it took me.)

But at its core, the Dream is rotten. And now, in some quarters, there is a growing recognition of its basic emptiness. I recently watched an interview with Suze Orman, the colorful financial advisor on television. She is not someone I normally follow, but she was hawking her new book on MSNBC's Morning Joe, which is hands-down the best news show going, and the only television I watch with regularity. Ms. Orman had some wise things to say about how the American Dream--which she labels a false dream--has been redefined since 2008. What she describes as the "new dream" is something I could live with. I highly recommend the interview, here. (Unfortunately, the first 5 minutes of this segment are devoted to the latest idiocy out of the mouth of Newt Gingrich. Scroll forward if possible.)

Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Either/Or-edness of Things

I recently engaged in some spirited correspondence with an old friend from back in my Church of Christ days. In that past, we shared a mutual frustration with our church, and often talked of what might be. Even after all these years, I find him every bit as discontented as he was 10, 15, 20 years before. And yet, he is still on the fence, you might say, contemplating which way to go. My friend talks of chucking church altogether and devoting his time to a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or some other community service. He now chafes at their emphasis on "attendance" at church services, finding it not only unimportant, but actually distracting from what God really wants--"doing good."

I found the whole conversation a bit odd. I suppose our discussions were hampered by the fact that we no longer speak the same language. In Orthodoxy, we have a throw-away line that usually says something to the effect that it is not that Orthodoxy has different answers, but that it asks different questions. I believe this to be true, but it is awfully hard to explain without explicating 2,000 years of church history. And yet, I felt this was exactly the position I was in with my friend. His burning concerns have no real meaning to me any longer. Take for example his beef with "attendance." However one characterizes Orthodox services, the word "attendance" is not a factor. One attends a concert. One attends a class. One attends a lecture. In every case, the attendee is part of an audience. One participates in an Orthodox liturgy.

But this would have been hard to explain to my friend, and would have come across as just more know-it-all triumphalism of which we are sometimes guilty. And I am afraid it comes across that what in print, as well. But the differences are real and substantive. The thing that really frustrated me, however, was my friend's either/or approach to his dilemma--he could either "attend" church or he could "do good." I asked him why he could not do both. In truth, there is no either/or solution. The question is really one of yes/and. He, in turn, was disturbed by my insistence that his anti-communal, individualistic go-it-alone approach was a dead end.

My friend's attitude put me in mind of something Flannery O'Connor once wrote--"The good thing about Protestantism is that it always carries the seeds of its own reversal. It is open at both ends--on one end, to Catholicism, and on the other to unbelief." I sympathized with his frustrations on the limitations of the church he knew--the general churchiness that characterized his worship experience. And having once been there myself, I knew exactly that to which he was speaking. My response that worship did not have to be that way was met with a good bit of incredulity. He could not image anything outside the general context of his experience--Protestant/fundamentalist/evangelical. My concern was with what O'Connor noted--the open end he was tumbled out of was the one which led to unbelief.

And along the way, he was leaving himself wide open to anything and everything--from the fluffy nothingness of Philip Gulley to the latest hot-shot televangelist. He actually convinced me to read Gulley's If The Church Were Christian. He assured me that it would change my life. The book did, in fact, bring tears to my eyes: first because I could never regain the time I had wasted reading the book, and secondly because a small forest was sacrificed to publish that trash. After that, he wanted me to listen to the latest podcast by David Jeremiah. That is where I drew the line. Like I say, different languages.

The either/or dichotomy is not unique to just Protestantism. I came across the following on a Catholic blog:

Anyone who says, "We don't go to Mass, but we are really good people" have missed the Christian bus big time. They don't get it and so greatly don't get it that they are almost uneducable. Their misunderstanding is so profound that you couldn't even say to them what they haven't got because they don't know what they don't know. The astounding blind ness of such folks is that nine times out of then they then turn around and blame the people who do go to Mass for being hypocrites. Their lack of self awareness and spiritual awareness reveals the depth of their own hypocrisy for they think they are good, and never see that the essential prayer--the prayer at the heart of it all is the sinner's plea, "Lord Jesus Christ, Have Mercy on me a Sinner."

This prayer, so simple and so profound is the prayer that truly liberates. See how free and how child like you can be if you simply say this prayer? Within this prayer is the soul's freedom and the soul's joy. Within this prayer is the simple trust in God on which everything else depends. Therefore, "Being good or Going to Mass" is a totally false dichotomy.

As one of the students said, "You can't really go to Mass and mean it and be bad, and if you don't go to Mass you can't really be good."

And so, the false dichotomies play out in Catholic circles as well.

My friend's situation has been on my mind for some time now, but only recently did I read of a theory as to why these questions are so common in Western Christendom, whether Catholic or Protestant. Andrea Elizabeth has undertaken a series on Dr. Joseph Farrell's God, History and Dialectic. This is my introduction to this work, which, unfortunately, can be obtained only by e-book. Dr. Farrell examines the difference courses taken by what he calls the First Europe (the East) and Second Europe (the West.) The following is an excerpt from the Introduction, which is available online:

Why did the western half of Christendom split along so cleanly dialectical lines during the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation? Why, for example, is it not only convenient but possible to describe that split by a series of polar oppositions: Faith versus works, Scripture versus Tradition, “private conversion stay-at-home-and-watch-television religion” versus “public, sacramental, institutional” religion; predestination versus free will, Kernel versus Husk, Kerygma versus Dogma, Luther versus Zwingli, Calvin versus Arminius, Whitefield and Edwards versus the Wesleys, Henry VIII versus the Pope? It has its secular counterparts as well: Empiricism versus Rationalism, Materialism versus Idealism, Science versus Religion, Creation versus Evolution, hard versus soft disciplines, and so on. One could
cite an endless litany of similar oppositions. Indeed, theologians, philosophers, and
historians of the Second Europe have long written about this or that pair of these eitheror
polarities, but astonishingly, have either done so in isolation of an examination of the
paradigm of dialectical opposition itself, or they have accepted that paradigm as an
inevitability of Christian theology or of Judeo-Christian civilization itself. The
phenomenon of this acceptance is therefore deeply rooted, and must be accounted for.
These essays argue that the paradigm is itself a direct consequence of Augustine’s
formulation of trinitarian doctrine. But the movement from the specifically Augustinian
formulation of the Trinity to these cultural consequences is certainly not an easy one to
recount, and thus, many theologians — those most adequately equipped to undertake
the task — fail to do so, for they view the original dispute between the East and West
over that formulation as a dispute about words. The troublesome questions multiply:
Why did a Church and a culture, which believed absolutely in the complete union in
Christ of the utterly spiritual and the completely material, without separation and without
confusion, lose sight of the implications of that belief in the movements of the dialectical
deconstruction of its thought and institutions? Why did the same Church, which, heir to
the doctrine of the Trinity, ought to have believed in the “both-andness” of Absolute Unity
and Utter diversity find itself embroiled in life-and-death constitutional struggles between
the Empire and the Papacy, or more fundamentally, between endless contests between
One Pope and Many Bishops? (p.11)

Dr. Farrell would say that the either-or approach of my friend--as opposed to a "both-andness" view--is hardwired into the very makeup of western Christendom, manifesting itself in an endless progression of controversial counterpoints. I believe that to be true. The real question, though, is how does one move past that mentality? We have become accustomed to the rut we are in. Western Christendom steadily declines with the endless re-reforming of the Faith these last few hundred years. There may be no way out until we hit bottom first.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Mike Huckabee is a Buffoon



HUCKABEE: [O]ne thing that I do know is his having grown up in Kenya, his view of the Brits, for example, very different than the average American. When he gave the bust back to the Brits –

MALZBERG: Of Winston Churchill.

HUCKABEE: The bust of Winston Churchill, a great insult to the British. But then if you think about it, his perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau Revolution in Kenya is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather.


Almost everything Huckabee said in this part of the recent interview was false, but he said it because it fits into the tiresome narrative that Obama disrespects and “snubs” allies. It appears that Huckabee was also directly channeling Glenn Beck’s view on the subject. It’s hard to imagine Huckabee saying this without the two-year drumbeat of nonsensical foreign policy criticism coming from both mainstream conservative pundits and talk radio.


Fischer: You know, I was struck by the fact that when he made his tour to Indonesia, he made a point of going to an Indonesian memorial that celebrated the victory of Indonesians over British troops – again, part of that anti-colonial thing. And so I’d like you to comment on that; you seem to think that there is some validity to the fact that there may be some fundamental anti-Americanism in this president.

Huckabee: Well, that’s exactly the point that I make in the book....And I have said many times, publicly, that I do think he has a different worldview and I think it is, in part, molded out of a very different experience. Most of us grew up going to Boy Scout meetings and, you know, our communities were filled with Rotary Clubs, not madrassas.

Ah, yes, the heroic Indonesian fight against the British. Who can forget that one? There were just a couple small problems with this. As far as I can tell, Obama did not visit any memorial during his Indonesia trip, and Indonesia was formerly a Dutch colony. Not that it will matter to Huckabee, but Obama didn’t attend a madrassa when he was in Indonesia. Of course, there is that famous Punahou madrassa in Honolulu, but everyone knows about that one.

Update: Obama did visit the Indonesian national war cemetery, which is what one would expect during a state visit to another country.

I wrestled with the title of this article. The obvious wording--"Mike Huckabee is an Idiot"--seemed somewhat lacking in Christian charity, what with Great Lent upon us and all. And so, I opted for the softer, kinder Buffoon, meant of course, in the nicest John Hagee-ish sort of way.