Tag Archives: America

Close to Realizing a Brave New World

Tom Nichols, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, says everyone’s reading 1984 to see the parallels with current events, but Trump is not Big Brother and America is not Oceania. He’s not trying to control everyone or tap everything down so it all looks orderly on the surface. But there are dangers to watch for.

One of the most endearing (and infuriating qualities) of Americans is that they don’t like to be told what to do. We retain a fierce streak of independence, even when it leads us astray. But make no mistake: we are killing our own sense of industry and independence on both the right and the left—yes, across the American political spectrum—and thus are far more at risk of sliding into the affluent but illiberal “Brave New World” than the regimented and disciplined world of Oceania.

In the Washington Post yesterday, Nichols says the constant media outrage over every little bit of news coming from the White House is only deadening our ears to honest critique or curiosity over actual policies.

This continual panic is short-circuiting any reasonable debate about the president’s policies by indulging Trump’s fiercest opponents in the belief that something could destroy his presidency before it has a chance to govern. Still furious over the outcome of the election, Trump’s critics seize on every move as if there is a Watergate moment to be found if only they look hard enough.

If My People… Will Humble Themselves

I have often chafed at appeals to 2 Chronicles 7:14 for American health, but I have wanted to believe them too.

The context is Solomon’s dedication of the temple. The Lord comes to him at night, saying, “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:13-14).

Many Evangelical voices tell us that if we, the church, will humble ourselves and pray, then our Lord will heal, bless, rebuke, correct the American people, but as Dr. Moore explains, interpretation like that is corrupt.

When God said to [the original readers], “If my people who are called by name,” he was specifically pointing them back to the covenant that he made with their forefather Abraham. At a specific point in their history, God had told Abraham about his descendants, saying “I will be their God” and “They will be my people.” That’s what “My people” means. God reminded a people who had been exiled, enslaved, and defeated that a rebuilt temple or a displaced nation cannot change who they were. They were God’s people, and would see the future God has for them.

We can’t blur the line on who God is talking about here and attempt to claim divine blessing that isn’t offered. The straightest line to draw from this verse to us will not lead to America, but to Christ.

Americans Hold Many Confusing Beliefs

Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research surveyed three thousand Americans on their theological beliefs. The results show a great need for godly churches to reach their communities with the gospel.

Many self-professing evangelicals reject foundational evangelical beliefs. The survey results reveal that the biblical worldview of professing evangelicals is fragmenting. Though American evangelicalism arose in the twentieth century around strongly held theological convictions, many of today’s self-identified evangelicals no longer hold those beliefs.

You can browse the findings yourself on their website.

The same percentage of respondents (62 percent) agree or somewhat agree with the statement, “By the good deeds that I do, I partly contribute to earning my place in heaven,” as well as “Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.” Slightly more of them (64) would say “everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature,” but 73 percent disagree or somewhat disagree that “even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation.”

That conviction is fundamentally a conviction about the character of God. If he is perfectly holy and just, he cannot let sin go unpunished. But God is no longer holy—in the minds of six out of ten Americans.

No One Can Set Up a Theocracy

“It is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects — military, political, economic, and what not,” Lewis wrote. “But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life.”

Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center shares some good thoughts from C. S. Lewis about Christians in the political world, but I think I may have strong disagreements.

Certainly, to create a specifically Christian political party could cause problems, because while the Bible has many applications to civil society, it does not give us a platform for twenty-first century governing. Wehner says Lewis “believed that theocracy was the worst form of government and detested the idea of a ‘Christian party,’ which risked blaspheming the name of Christ.”

I can see that danger, but who among us is even capable of establishing a theocracy? If God were to descend on Washington D.C. and declare his regulations from the Lincoln Memorial, if he were to charge his followers with discipling those who refuse to obey him and blessing them with divine gifts for carrying out his will, then we would have a theocracy. What are the Lord’s trade and immigration policies? How does the Lord want us to handle our crime-ridden cities? Let’s ask him directly.

No. We can’t get there from here. We could set up a “Christian” party. I’m pretty sure we have. And we have several Christian candidates for various offices, but none of them can reconstruct our government to submit to the direct decrees of God. What Wehner and Lewis, I suppose, are criticizing is a government ruled by priests who claim to speak for the Almighty–the Holy American Empire, in other words.  Continue reading No One Can Set Up a Theocracy

Recommendations on the Enlightenment in America

Thomas Kidd is not bullish on the Enlightenment. “The Enlightenment is an ideologically loaded term that implies that much of the western intellectual tradition before The Enlightenment was ‘dark.’ Much of that tradition was, of course, Christian. ‘The Enlightenment’ presupposes an arc of history toward secular democratic scientific liberalism.”

Today, he recommends five books on how this movement influenced Americans and the Founders. Here’s one of his recommendations:

Jeffry Morrison, John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic (2005). From one of our finest scholars of Christianity and the Founding, I might also recommend Morrison’s volume on George Washington’s political philosophy. But here Morrison assesses the broad significance of Witherspoon, Princeton’s president and the only pastor to sign the Declaration of Independence, and his defense of the “public interest of religion.”

Optimistic Dignity

In an earlier book, Who Really Cares, [Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute] compiled an impressive array of data to show that contrary to the conventional wisdom conservatives tend to give more to charity than do those on the left. In his new book, The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous Americahe goes further, arguing that not only is the conservative heart a caring heart but that the conservative head has produced public policies that are truly compassionate because they are capable of generating jobs and opportunity that–in turning the economy around–would infuse the lives of substantial numbers of poor and struggling people with dignity by providing them the opportunity to earn success.

How Was Slavery in America Abolished?

Emancipation

W.E.B. Du Bois challenged the idea that American slaves were emancipated by outside liberators with the notion of slave insurrection and self-emancipation. He painted a picture of slaves rising up against the Confederacy to undermine it while pressuring the White House to pass anti-slavery legislation. Others have taken up this line of thought to argue that slaves, in fact, started The Civil War in order to free themselves.

Allen C. Guelzo, the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College, sees many problems with this view and reviews two books for the Claremont Review of Books that demonstrate how Du Bois was wrong. Of the longer of the two, Guelzo writes:

Rael’s book is a comprehensive history of slavery’s end, well-informed, subdued in tone, and in most cases forgiving. He does not believe (as David Waldstreicher, Paul Finkelman, and George van Cleve do) that the founders were unqualified hypocrites who cunningly crafted a pro-slavery Constitution, and he is more willing than most to acknowledge that it was the rise of bourgeois notions of property rights which made property in human beings seem repulsive in an age which had abandoned hierarchy as the governing principle of social life.

Perhaps the self-emancipation idea is an attempt at self-fulfilling prophecy, the idea that if they believe they liberated themselves back then, they will liberate themselves again today. But the fact that Du Bois and others saw the need to argue for a new emancipation is evidence enough that the previous one had not be entirely of their own making. (via Prufrock News)

Rage Against Cops Makes Us Less Safe

Dallas police
“We’re in the midst of the greatest delegitimation of law enforcement in recent memory,” says the scholar behind a new book on policing in America today. “Officers are backing off of proactive policing, and as a result, crime in big cities, above all cities with large Black populations is going up at a very alarming rate.”

Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal. In her just-released book, The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe, she says the communities most in need of active policing are receiving less of it in part because of aggressive tactics citizens are taking to hold cops accountable. Officers do need training and support to uphold the law and seek justice, but much of this citizen accountability is an effort to get a cop off the street entirely.

From a piece in City Journal, Mac Donald writes:

The growing mayhem [this year in Chicago] is the result of Chicago police officers’ withdrawal from proactive enforcement, making the city a dramatic example of what I have called the “Ferguson effect.” Since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, the conceit that American policing is lethally racist has dominated the national airwaves and political discourse, from the White House on down. In response, cops in minority neighborhoods in Chicago and other cities around the country are backing off pedestrian stops and public-order policing; criminals are flourishing in the resulting vacuum. (An early and influential Ferguson-effect denier has now changed his mind: in a June 2016 study for the National Institute of Justice, Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri–St. Louis concedes that the 2015 homicide increase in the nation’s large cities was “real and nearly unprecedented.” “The only explanation that gets the timing right is a version of the Ferguson effect,” he told the Guardian.)

There are many steps on the road to dealing with this problem. I doubt most of the efforts made by our churches will be reported, so let’s not fall into the trap of looking at atrocities and asking where the church is. The small interactions of a community seeking better health are not front page news. We are praying, seeking restoration, counseling, teaching, and loving. There’s plenty more to do. (via Instapundit)

7/13 update: Thomas Sowell reviews The War on Cops, saying, “Such facts would have spoiled the prevailing preconceptions. Many facts reported in The War on Cops spoil many notions that all too many people choose to believe. We need to stop this nonsense, before there is a race war that no one can win.” (via Prufrock News)

Tipping Off the American Pedestal

Cheryl Magness tells us how the recently departed author Elie Wiesel’s message will continue to resonate.

As Americans we are taught, and most of us believe, that there is something special about America. We speak reverently of the independent and pioneering spirit that sparked a new nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” We cherish the “rugged individualism” that enabled us to build a “shining city on a hill.” We think of ourselves as being the most generous and compassionate people on the face of the earth.

This view of ourselves as something unique in history, a nation markedly different from, and superior to, any other, has the potential both to motivate us for good and to lead us into laziness and neglect. For it is in believing too fully in our pedestal that we have the greatest capacity to fall off of it.

Elie Wiesel Is Gone, But His Message Is Forever

What Americans Claim to Read

Last week, the Library of Congress opened a new exhibit called “America Reads” to “celebrate the public’s choice of 65 books by American authors that had a profound effect on American life.”

It’s a follow-up to the 2012 exhibit “Books That Shaped America.” At that time, “the Library of Congress urged members of the public to name other books that shaped America and to tell the Library which of the 88 books on the list were most important to them. Thousands of readers responded.”

We, the people of these United States, chose books such as Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, both Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and Anthem, The Book of Mormon, Stephen King’s The Stand, Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, The Cat in the Hat, AA’s Big Book, The Feminine Mystique, and Spock’s Baby and Child Care.

The LOC reminds us, “The volumes featured in the ‘America Reads’ exhibition do not necessarily represent the best in American letters, nor do they speak to the diversity of our nation and the books it produces.” No, but it does speak to the type of people who visit the Library of Congress and respond to reading surveys with what amounts to Boaty McBoatface without the priceless publicity.

The Big Book? Baby and Child Care? How many actual people who put on pants in the morning responded to this survey? It couldn’t be thousands, unless almost everyone picked a unique title, making the three votes for Baby and Child Care a standout choice.

The exhibit will run through the end of the year.

Who Could Oppose Us? We’re So Nice.

R.R. Reno suggests terrorism is not about hate, but political warfare. We aren’t threatened by a network of criminals or people who are psychologically unhinged; we’re threatened by a network of people who believe the American way of life is immoral and dangerous to the world. But our leaders ask themselves why the terrorists hate us.

Our leaders cannot imagine a rational anti-Americanism. This is due in part to the narrowing effect of multiculturalism. Paradoxically, instead of broadening our capacity to entertain ways of thinking not our own, multiculturalism has made us parochial. We compliment ourselves endlessly for our tolerance, inclusiveness, and diversity. Since we are so tolerant of others, we assume, there is no reason others shouldn’t tolerate us. Since we are never offended, we must be inoffensive.

Aren’t we the world? Aren’t we all on the same page, if we could just talk to each other? But if one of us has offended them, it must be those hatemongering Christians, who tell us to love Jesus and keep sex inside of marriage. If anything’s offensive, that is. (via Prufrock News)

On the Faith of Our Neighbors

Matt McCullough reviews Joseph Bottum’s An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America, which focuses on a newly developed class of self-righteous Protestants who have redefined redemption in social terms.

These folks aren’t self-consciously religious, though they may consider themselves “spiritual.” They blame the Protestant Christianity of their parents for much of what’s worst in the world. But if they’ve cast off their parents’ theological and ecclesial commitments, they have inherited a robust confidence in their own “essential moral rightness” (13). In fact, without the work of Christ or the fellowship of the church to fall back on, their sense of moral enlightenment becomes all the more crucial. It’s how they know their lives are justified; it’s how they know they belong among those who “get it.”

… They’re set apart as a class by their ability to recognize and personally reject the forces of evil—especially bigotry, militarism, oppression, and (sexual) repression. And they enjoy calm assurance that they’re insiders to a better world coming just around the corner.

Tocqueville on the Tyranny of the Majority

And if you want a refutation of the wisdom of crowds—the “theory of equality applied to intelligence,” Tocqueville scoffs—look no further. As someone who believes that “freedom of the intellect is a sacred thing,” as Tocqueville does, “when I feel the hand of power weigh upon my brow, it scarcely matters who my oppressor is, and I am not more inclined to submit to the yoke because a million arms are prepared to place it around my neck.”

That same majoritarian tyranny explains why America’s elected officials are so mediocre. To win votes, they have to flatter public opinion with the obsequiousness of Louis XIV’s most sycophantic courtiers. Andrew Jackson is Tocqueville’s Exhibit A. He “is the slave of the majority,” Tocqueville sneers; “he obeys its wishes and desires and heeds its half-divulged instincts; or rather, he divines what the majority wants, anticipating its desires before it knows what they are in order to place himself at its head.” Like most politicians, he cares only about reelection, so that “his own individual interest supplants the general interest in his mind.” His (ultimately successful) vendetta against the Second Bank of the United States is a perfect example. Even though it inestimably benefits the nation by ensuring its monetary stability, Jackson happily attacks it, accusing its directors of being an aristocracy in the making, opposed to the democratic majority—and, incidentally, to Jackson as well. But of course, Jackson’s Democrats, the party that stands for the infinite expansion of the power of the people, have a permanent majority over the rival Federalists, who could win election only when the country needed to navigate the perils of the Founding, a unique emergency that prompted the Federalist Party’s superior men to accept public office.

From Myron Magnet’s essay, The End of Democracy in America” on Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and The Old Regime and the French Revolution. (via Prufrock)

Hamilton Resonates, Shapes Our Political Imaginations

Millennials must heed the Founders’ warning when voting in 2016. They explicitly warned us about inflammatory candidates (read: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders), and endeavored to structure a system that would protect the angry masses from themselves. In “Federalist No. 1,” Hamilton cautions against men gaining power through igniting the public’s fury, warning that they start by “paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.”

Kayla Nguyen, a fellow at the John William Pope Foundation, writes about the popular musical Hamilton and how it could speak to her generation and inspire them to believe in the American Experiment.