Friday, July 06, 2012

for everything there is an appropriate time

Sometimes I blog and sometimes I write and it is coincidental, at times, that these two spheres of activity overlap. This has been one of those times where there is not necessarily any real overlap.

Longtime readers know there's things in store for some ongoing projects.  There's a lot more coming along for that project, if you know what the project is.

There's not much planned for the real estate series because documenting real estate acquisitions gets tedious after a while.

I'm aware of a story involving some claims about demons that has been posted.  I have seen that a few people reflexively stake out the axiom that there are two sides to every story but what they really mean by that is there is only one side they want to take seriously.

Appropos of nothing, perhaps, I would suggest all those people go pop in Akira Kurosawa's film Rashomon in which multiple people provide conflicting accounts and none of the accounts add up to a simple narrative. Yeah, folks, it's kinda like that.

The Ecclesiastes allusion is deliberate because I've finished a fantastic commentary on Ecclesiastes I hope to blog about later.  But right now I'm more interested in writing stuff that doesn't necessarily end up here.  I'm excited to be working on some new chamber pieces for some combinations of instruments that are exceedingly rare in one style of music as they are common in another.

I have not forgotten about Chamber Music Week 2 but there's a time to blog and a time to write and a time to hang out with family and friends and watch movies. So comparatively speaking I have not done a lot here and have not been in any rush to do too much in connection to the blog at the moment.  Sometimes you want to have a fun 4th of July week and just tinker with a post or two rather than crank out a lot of posts.

HT Mockingbird: Trickle Down Distress

... When using meritocracy calculators to assess achievement, we often overlook or dismiss how much luck can affect lives. If any good has come of the current economic crisis, it's how much harder doing that has become. "Merit hard liners downplay the effects of luck," says McNamee. "But the imperfections and ultimate uncertainty of both the stock market on Wall Street and the labor market on Main Street add an undeniable element of luck into the mix." And while the U.S. government does have a history of passing laws aimed at equalizing opportunity and eliminating discrimination, it has simultaneously encouraged great economic disparities. "Major structural changes in the U.S. economy such as de-industrialization, automation, and globalization have displaced workers quite independent of the merit of individuals," says McNamee. "The historical decline in self-employment and the concomitant rise and dominance of large oligarchic corporations (including chains and franchises) have created barriers of entry for starting and sustaining small businesses and sharply reduced the entrepreneurial path to mobility."

This kind of meritocracy can be considered the core of not just various forms of prosperity teaching that uniquely thrive in the United States, it may also be seen in an incipient form in a misunderstanding of the nature of the Wisdom literature itself.  If you read the book of Proverbs as a series of life-rules for prosperity at any level that is in part because that's where Proverbs goes.  A broader question of what role the Wisdom literature has within the canon is a topic I have not seen rank and file Christians discuss nearly as much as textual scholars. If Proverbs is offset by both Job and the book of Ecclesiastes that is a pretty significant caveat to how strictly and broadly to apply concepts spelled out in a few proverbs.

Years ago I heard a preacher propose that a new revival of Christian teaching and practice might emerge from immersion in Wisdom literature.  I would suggest that there has never been, nor will there ever be, a revival of any Christian piety of any kind anchored to any wisdom literature.  Without regard for the Lord and a recognition of inscrutable providence Wisdom literature leads to despair or to a prosperity gospel.  For instance, let's say you're a never-married man and you have that proverb about how he who finds a wife finds what is good and has favor from the Lord.  By itself that's just a proverb. Your being married or unmarried does not in fact prove anything about whether you have pleased the Lord.  God killed Nabal, after all, and Abigail was a prize of a wife, right?  King Saul had a wife and some solid kids but was rejected by the Lord.  A failure to read the Wisdom literature in the broader context of the canon can lead a person to mistakenly propose that the Wisdom literature will show you how to live a more successful life.

Back in 2010 I blogged about the liberation of being average.  Wendy, over at Practical Theology for Women, blogged about the prosperity gospel of conservative evangelicals.

Seeing as I finished a fascinating commentary on Ecclesiastes all of these articles discussing meritocracy and anxiety will provide some set-up for future blog entries about Shields' fascinating take on Ecclesiastes. Let me set the stage a bit on that one by proposing that the reason Job and Ecclesiastes  ended up in the canon was at least in part due to a realization that the temptation to misapply wisdom literature into a mechanistic prosperity system is so likely that there needed to be two books to correct against that.  Job shows us a case study in which a godly man was struck by disaster in a way that had nothing to do with his righteousness.  Ecclesiastes shows us the musings of the greatest sage of his time remarking that wisdom is useless and ineffectual in the long run, and that wisdom is unable to answer the important questions of life and unable to deliver what people think it promises.

But it's best to save some of that stuff for the sequels.

HT Mockingbird: Redefining Success and Celebrating the Ordinary

A couple of years ago I wrote about the liberation of being average:

The prospect of having to be special all the time can be a miserable expectation and it may be fitting this NYT article showed up in the weeks after Pixar's new film Brave got released. Let me playfully suggest that the fantasy setting of the new film can be held to correspond to the fantasy futures parents often envision for their children, futures that often can't exist because the world into which the children are hoped to grow up will never materialize.

This week is more of a week of links.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Sandunsky verdict provides opportunity for punditry and metapunditry

By D. G. Hart | Published: July 2, 2012

The news of Jerry Sandusky’s conviction for child molestation has some Christians beating their breasts over their faith’s influence on western civilization. Joe Carter, one of TGC’s aggregators, has a quotation from a piece at the Catholic World Reporter that argues Sandusky would not have been found guilty in the ancient worlds of Greece or Rome:

If Sandusky would have lived 2000 years ago, he would not have been found guilty of anything. He would not even have been noticed. His actions would have been entirely unremarkable. There would have been no disgust, no anger. The verdict would have been innocent, and in fact, the notion that he was guilty of anything would have been unintelligible.

Carter jumps on the bandwagon:
For 2,000 years, the influence of Christ has had a profound—yet underestimated—influence on all aspects of Western culture. We often take for granted that without the “salt and light” of Christianity, behaviors that we consider disgusting and taboo would be accepted and commonplace. But what will happen if the influence of Christ and his followers continues to wane?

Discerning which is more remarkable here — the bad taste or the theological blunder — is difficult to say. Why would someone use this occasion to boast about the cultural effects of one’s faith? Why not show a little humility, mixed in with a dose of compassion for both Sandusky’s family, not to mention the victims (and their families), and back away from exploiting this story in the culture wars? Is this really going to persuade anyone on the other side or will it confirm the Religious Right’s reputation for self-congratulatory righteousness (and thus inspiring the faithful)?

Well, it wouldn't be the first time someone connected to the Gospel Coalition in some way had used this kind of argument from history.  I was less than thrilled when someone in Seattle came up with a comparable argument in 2005:

See, after church tonight you will go home and you will eat chicken, not human, because of the spread of Christianity. You think I’m kidding, go to a country that hasn’t had the spread of Christianity. They’re having human for dinne

This is not exactly the best case.  A lot of things did change with the development of Christian thought and ethics in the West.  Some very good and some very bad came of ideas within early Christian teaching and thought.  Let's not give the Enlightenment the decidedly less credit a lot of contemporary evangelicals want it to get credit for in the realm of proposing better circumstances for people.  Yes, I know the arguments that the Enlightenment developed within Christian this and that.  it was possible for elements of the Enlightenment as well as more conventional Christian belief to coexist in someone like Edwards. None of that is to suggest that today you and I don't eeat human today for dinner because of the Christianization of the West.  It's a big stretch to say that only those societies that were influenced by Christianity do not have taboos about cannibalism.  It's not as though the Donner Party situation didn't play out in a setting where people were informed by Christendom.

That Sandunsky is guilty has been established. What has also been established is that protecting the peace and reputation of the institution is not considered worth the silencing or slighting of those who have experienced ineffable harm. It can't be said of a university that no person, no matter how badly harmed or sinned against, has no right to speak regarding injustice and abuse.  If this is true about a university it may prove to be the case about churches as well and yet there is a very real possibility that within evangelicalism that this observation will become the subject of special pleading.

It may be well and good that a university or a Catholic church does not have the right to pass over or ignore the abuse and harm experience by others at the hands of abusive power systems but that's because those are worldly institutions are not really Christian churches.  When the shoe is on the other foot the reputation and peace of the institution may prove to be worth more than the ruined lives of any number of people who were sacrificed at the altar of the peace and reputation of an institution. If moral equivalence applies then it applies across the defense of institutions at the expense of people who have shared stories of abuse.  Avoiding a theology of Job's comforters does not just entail avoiding a defense of God's reputation it can also involve refraining from defending what Protestants would normally proclaim to be a fallible church in the wake of a series of disasters.

By way of observing a comment it can be established that even within the pre-Christianised West cannibalism was considered off the table for insults.  Or at least such is the case made by David No in the following comment.  If accurate it would suggest that there's no reason to suppose the only reason we in the West have chicken instead of human for dinner was because of Christianity.

Posted July 2, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink
Are there any citations for this quote: “If Sandusky would have lived 2000 years ago, he would not have been found guilty of anything”? I don’t find any on the TGC page. Or this one: “In Rome, as in ancient Greece, homosexuality was completely acceptable.” It’s a gross over-simplification of these societies and their customs.
Standard operating procedure in Roman politics and oratory is to demonstrate the guilt of one’s opponent for action A by first demonstrating their depraved character. Depraved character leads inexorably to depraved actions. The typical charges to prove one’s opponent has a debased character are: 1.) alcoholism; 2.) homosexuality and pederasty 3.) incest. The one charge that neither Greeks nor Romans seem to have touched is cannibalism (made them too ‘Eastern’ and was connected to human sacrifice).
If the article’s author wants to see that he is mistaken about Greek and Roman culture, if he has those cultures in mind, he could read Cicero’s Catilinarian speechs, his speeches against Verres and the Philippics against Mark Antony, as well as Demosthenes first and second Philippics. If he has the stomach, he could also read the Roman poet Catullus, in whose works the charge of homosexual behavior is that which you use to mock someone, in very lurid detail.
It’s true the Greeks, though not Romans, tolerated aberrant sexual behavior more than we, but it is false that they would not have seen Sandusky’s actions as wrong or that the moral category of pederasty would have been “unintelligible.” It’s an uncharitable thing to say about the dead whose morals were often better than ours.

Rather than scoring points about how the West has supposedly developed to a point where Sandunsky would be considered guilty of something we should consider the implications such a ruling may have for those who would place the defense of an institution's reputation above the safety and welfare of minors and other individuals. Evangelicals should beware that on this subject we are not pots calling kettles black.

Finally, Hart links to the following article for those who might want to follow that thread of thought which states that the pursuit of happiness is in any way commensurate with the path of a Christian.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Fearsome Tycoon on "The Great Emergence"

Funny enough to be worth replicating in its entirety.  Plus I've linked to fascinating comments or amusing comments from the BHT from years ago that don't exist any longer.

Here are my running thoughts:

1. Any time you talk about what’s happening in “the Church,” and you’re talking about some sliver of Western Protestantism, you are being historically, geographically, and culturally unaware. Most Christians are Catholic. Whatever you think about Catholicism, that’s a numerical fact. Period. Are you changing Catholicism? If the answer is “no,” you’re not a major movement in “the Church.”

2. The Emergent Church is an insignificant movement. Let’s put it this way–Martin Luther changed pretty much everything. To belong to a church in the 21st century is still, to this day, to belong to an organization decisively shaped by the ideas of Luther, whether acceptance, rejection or modification of them. Same with Gregory. You can’t be a Christian today without being fundamentally affected by Gregory’s assertions of papal supremacy, whether you are Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, or Lutheran. I’m just not seeing that kind of effect happening due to the Emergent movement, because I don’t see them making some kind of fundamentally earth-shaking assertion that hasn’t been made already.

3. There is no such thing as “post-Protestant.” If you are Protestant, the only way to stop being Protestant is to join a communion that either (a) predates the Reformation, (b) split off from a pre-Reformation communion, or (c) isn’t recognizably Christian. If neither (a) nor (b) nor (c) hold, you are a Protestant, like it or not. So you read Aquinas and think he’s smart. BFD, so did John Calvin. Do you think the pope is infallible? No? Hi, you’re a Protestant, welcome to the club you never left.

4. “Gettiing rid of Christian exclusivism” is not new. It’s not unique. It’s called “liberal Protestantism” and is old, boring, and busted. It’s got a really short organizational half-life because people stop waking up early and donating money to a church body if there’s no eternal significance to anything.

5. No one is impressed by you reclaiming bits of liturgy from the 4th century. The vast majority of practicing Christians already do that. Let me bring you down to earth, Emergents. There are about 2,265 million Christians. Over half of them are Catholic. Add in the Orthodox, and you’re up to 62%. Throw in the Lutherans and Anglicans for good measure, and now we’re up to around 70% of Christianity. Really, truly, we think it’s nice that you’ve discovered some value in the heritage your Calvinist and Anabaptist forebears threw out. But the Emergent discovery of the Kyrie is no more revolutionary than some guy in Idaho discovering that rice can be cooked and eaten.

Good thing I included the body of the post here because it looks like the Boar's Head Tavern has experienced another one of its semi-annual site crashes!