Monday, March 30, 2009

De Regno Christi Returns

Dr. Bill Chellis has kindly invited me to continue as a contributor at his excellent group blog De Regno Christi that has recently been re-organized.

It is an honor to be included with several distinguished writers, historians, and theologians in this endeavor. So far, the list of contributors includes:

  • Gregory Baus, a Reformed Dooyeweerdian philosopher and social thinker;
  • Dr. Bradley Birzer, Russell Kirk Professor of American Studies History at Hillsdale College and a Roman Catholic; Pastor of Westminster Reformed Presbyterian Church and co-editor of Semper Reformanda;
  • Dr. Bill Chellis, an Attorney and an ordained Minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church;
  • Dr. D.G. Hart, an author of many books on modern Protestant history in America,
  • Davey Henreckson, a "high church Anglyterian" and author of the excellent Theopolitical blog; and
  • Caleb Stegal, a country lawyer, writer, and former editor of the excellent The New Pantagruel.

Be sure to check out the discussion as I believe we'll soon be systematically examining specific propositions that concern the relation of Christ to culture.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Obama Frees Science from the Shackles of "Political Ideology"


On March 9th, at a ceremony in the Oval Office, President Obama signed an Executive Order reversing George W. Bush's 2001 ban on funding certain forms of stem cell research.

Here's how the Time article characterized it:


"The sigh of relief in labs across the country was almost audible. In Boston, Douglas Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, gathered his entire staff to listen to Obama's announcement and served cake in celebration. James Thomson, the University of Wisconsin scientist responsible for isolating the first human embryonic stem cells in 1998, flew to Washington at Obama's request to watch the signing in person.


"The President's decision does much more than expand funding for stem-cell research. It heralds a shift in the government's view of science, ushering in an era in which it promises to defend science — and the pursuit of useful treatments — against ideology. 'It is about ensuring that scientific data [are] never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology,' Obama said in his opening statement. (emphasis added)


"Without discounting the moral concerns that some Americans have about using embryos — which many consider to be fully realized human life — for scientific research, Obama said that moral values do not necessarily preclude the study of embryonic stem cells, particularly those obtained from the pool of 400,000 or so embryos currently stored in IVF clinics around the U.S., most of which would have been discarded. 'I believe we have been given the capacity and the will to pursue this research — and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly,' he said."


The article grudgingly admits that "New techniques in generating stem cells from skin cells may prove in coming years more efficient and reliable than using embryonic stem cells."


But the article goes on to say, "Monday's Executive Order is less about pitting the promise of one type of stem cell against another's and more about re-establishing the authority of science, of ensuring that any and every potentially useful avenue of research will be pursued to its end. As the President noted, the new policy will not guarantee stem-cell treatments for diabetes, Parkinson's or Lou Gehrig's disease. But it does guarantee a commitment to the kind of promising research that this Administration — and many people in the scientific community — believe must be followed." (emphasis added)


We should all be grateful for Time's impartial and "scientific" reporting of the facts.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Is a Constitutional Convention in the offing?

Back in December there was a World Net Daily article based on a warning issued by Tom DeWeese of the American Policy Center. The article basically states that only two more states need to vote affirming the need for a Constitutional Convention and that our constitutional rights are threatened.

Well, I doubt it. Not that our constitutional rights are threatened--they are--but that the liberal majority would risk the trouble. Having an outdated constitution in place that is only selectively applied is a great asset to the ruling class. They can clothe themselves with the mantle of the venerability and authority of a hallowed system, claiming to be true to the internal logic of a living document, while moving the nation slowly and surely in a progressive direction. Why would liberals want to give this up? So far, it's worked very well for them.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Entelechy

From the Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia entry

Entelechy (La. entelechia, from Gk. ἐντελέχεια, entelécheia) is a philosophical concept of Aristotle... From én (in), télos (end, or purpose) and échein (to have), Aristotle coined it to signify "having one's end within", therefore, that something's essential potential is being fully actualised.

In Aristotle's Metaphysics, the concept is contrasted with enérgeia. Entelécheia has been seen as a fullness of actualization which requires an ongoing or standing investment of effort in order to persist, as opposed to the energeia which is the activity of actualization not necessarily completed. Often entelechy is associated with form, and potency is associated with material which potentially has the form.

First entelechy is being in full working order (for example, the soul is the first entelechy of the body), and second entelechy is being in action. Motion or change can lead to an entelechy but also themselves can be seen as entelechies. Entelechy has even been seen as in some way perpetually "becoming itself" yet never reaching the goal of that "becoming" (and were it to do so, the entelechy would, by definition, cease to exist).

Something, for example wood, which is itself already actual, complete, and formed in its entelechy as wood, may be potentially something else, for example buildable into a house, and the entelechy of that potential for being built is the building process, the wood's being built into a house. By extension the building process is an entelechy of the wood too, though not of the wood just as wood, but just insofar as it is buildable into a house. The motion or change or process of change is the entelechy of the potentiality as potentiality (when still a potentiality). Once the buildable house is finished, "the buildable is no longer buildable," says Aristotle, and with the cessation of that potentiality for being built comes the cessation of its entelechy, the building process. The house builders move on to the next construction site and the next batch of wood.

Actual things in a sense are processes, so that entelechy and energeia (activeness), though contrastable, tend to extend to the same things. Some processes seem perpetual, and thus sometimes an entelechy seems a becoming which never reaches that becoming's final goal.

An individual's life can in many ways be regarded as beholden to various simultaneous and overlapping entelechies, for example, the life trajectories imposed by biological limitations, our mortality, the norms and expectations of family and/or society, and the individual's ego-ideal. Externally imposed entelechies and fantasized but unrealized entelechies can both be sources of frustration.

Societies can also be said to embody entelechies in their cultures; religious views, collective senses of entitlement, "mission" or "mandate" and even in their very languages. Societies/ cultures sensing that their entelechial trajectory is reaching its terminus (i.e., sensing they are in decline) or that this trajectory has been deflected from its "proper" path by illegitimate forces - either internal or external - may exhibit violently irrational or even self-destructive reactions.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What is Civilization? Part 2

Civilization Defined (Cont’d.)

As Russ has pointed out, Wal-Mart functions analogously to a city in our civilization, exercising an influence comparable in magnitude to a city such as New York, which contains several times more people (presently about 19 million). And, we are agreed that Wal-Mart is not a civilization for the same reason: Wal-Mart’s scope of activity is limited mainly to the economic sphere. Generally, corporations exist for one reason only: to provide economic profits for their shareholders. Economics may encompass a significant portion of what comprises civilization, but the concerns of civilization are broader.

Russ has emphasized the disparate interests that characterize many civilizations, but I’m arguing here that disparate interests are accidental properties, not essential to what civilization is. His definition has emphasized the differences and left out the commonality that unites people together in the first place. This is the social nature of man and the ultimate end of Society in general. In short, Russ’ definition—inadvertently perhaps—excludes the fact that civilization is essentially a developed form of Society.

Society and Civilization

What is Society then? As a Christian, I offer the following theological definition: Society is the fellowship of men with God. Society in its truest and broadest sense is the union and communion of men with God—and the two Great Commandments (love of God and love of neighbor) are its supreme laws. The eschatological goal of Society as created and superintended by God is the complete interpenetration of Earth by Heaven.

It is the case that many human beings have attempted to build their own societies apart from relationship with God. Yet, because God is inescapable, these attempts can never be wholly successful. The degree of success man has in forming a society excluding God is the degree of success he has in creating hell on earth.

Original Society, as God’s creation, has an intrinsic created purpose. Its completion is a glorified world—Heaven. Its dissolution--Hell. These are two very real "social" realities. At the end of this world’s historical process, all of humanity will be separated into two groups. The children of God will inhabit the one true Society. The children of the Devil will inhabit the Anti-Society, the chaotic darkness of absolute alienation from God as well as from men.

Which brings us back to the common bond necessary for binding individuals into collective unity. Civilization is Society advanced beyond primitive organization. It represents a step toward the perfection of Society despite historically accidental evils and imperfections that may exist. A civilization is a true society not because of, but despite, these flaws. It may be that civilization’s evils and imperfections may come to dominate its historical development. When this is the case, it can truly be said that civilization is tending away from its intrinsic (i.e., essential to created nature) purpose.

To conclude, the health or sickness of Society is relative to its proper end. This must be true of Civilization as well, since civilization is nothing else than a maturation of original Society. Civilization proper aspires to universal and eternal ends, seeking to perpetually (at least, as long as possible!) provide the greatest social good (happiness and security) for the greatest number of people. Therefore, Civilization on this view is not merely a descriptive category but a moral ideal.

The conceptualization of Civilization I’m advancing here obviously originates in the realist metaphysic I generally espouse. The following examples illustrate how this realistic metaphysic works. Communication is more than symbolic expression; symbols must actually signify truth in order to qualify as communication. Similarly, Art is more than a technique of communication; it must actually embody some principle of the Good, the True and the Beautiful. Genuine government embodies dominion, authority, and power. Genuine Society (i.e., that is true to its nature) tends toward the observance and advance of God's reign on earth.

Civilization is not a nominal descriptive category that describes particular features of society, but represents a developed stage toward perfection along the continuum that exists between Heaven and Hell. Civilization, when used properly as an ideal term, is not an arbitrary notion based on some imperfect society that existed once upon a time in history. Civilization, properly conceived, is oriented to the eternal state—the concrete ideal at the end of time that the nations seek and that Christians call New Jerusalem.

The Church's One Foundation

On January 8, 2009, Richard John Neuhaus, the prominent Lutheran then Catholic churchman and writer was taken home to his Lord. This hymn was sung at his memorial service.

The Church's one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is his new creation by water and the Word.
From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride;
With his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.

Elect from every nation, yet one o'er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation, one Lord, one faith, one birth;
One Holy Name she blesses, partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses, with every grace endued.

Though with a scornful wonder we see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,
Yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up, "How long?"
And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.

Mid toil and tribulation, and tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious, her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious shall be the Church at rest.

Yet she on earth hath union with God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy! Lord, give us grace that we like them,
The meek and lowly, on high may dwell with thee.

***

Requiescat in pace.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

2 Peter 3:16

[Paul] in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things [i.e., of the coming of the Lord]; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

Second to the Lord Jesus, St. Paul is probably the most studied and least understood teacher in all of Scripture. The unlearned and unstable wrest our Lord's statements to say no Christian should ever make judgments, take oaths, defend against aggression, render capital punishment, or use honorific titles. This is the hermeneutic of leftist radicalism: God is against Caesar, therefore rebellion against Christendom--and only against Christendom (!)--is justified.

Likewise, St. Paul is interpreted to dialectically set nature against grace, works against faith, Law against Gospel, and Christ's Mediation against the sacramental means of grace. Further, the Apostle is misconstrued to teach the separation of Jew and Gentile into two peoples of God, secret raptures, and every other effort calculated to tear redemptive grace from the fabric of creation.

These efforts will fail because it is not possible to ultimately deceive God's elect.

Against the Darbyites: The Spirit of Antichrist

_____,

I, too, have many obligations that would preclude spending the time to discuss at once all the issues that have been raised.

I also apologize for what you took to be a personal attack. (Is it really an apology when one fails to express regret for his offensive manner?) It is too easy to get carried away in the heat of writing. So, actually, I apologize for the counter-offensive manner of my response. At least a conversation has been initiated that has potential to bear fruit. Hopefully, we will be able to shake hands when the matter is concluded (which I hope will not be too soon).

As you well know, the personal is deeply entangled with the issues we’re discussing. It can hardly be surprising that it surfaces in these sorts of interchanges. I do not care to deny that I have a personal stake in discussions about the Brethren. How could I not? I was nurtured in that community for the first twenty-five years of my life. As I see it, the inherent dispositional flaw of Brethren actually did not originate with them and is far more prevalent in society than I realized when I made my original break from them almost fifteen years ago. The problem is deeper and more pervasive, as I will attempt to explain further in this letter.

And surely, ___, I’ve nothing against you personally. Why should I? I think I can count on one hand the number of real conversations we’ve had together, even though we are family. We simply don’t have the personal rapport that gives you the right to come into my “territory” and start blasting without certain social preliminaries. I’m willing to trade body blows with you any time we set the ground rules for the fight as sporting men, not as brawlers.

Some conventions I think we both can accept are:
  • The Primary appeal is made to God’s will as revealed in Scripture, not the authority of man, not even “spiritual men” (Surprising isn’t it?);
  • Secondary corroborating appeals may be made to historical evidences (including cultural contexts, opinions of eminent believers, etc.);
  • An attempt is made to fairly represent the opponent’s motivation and rationale; and
  • The strictures of Christian charity are to be observed at all times.

Feel free to modify or add to the list as you see fit.

I originally deployed a broad “scatter-shot” response in order to give you a fuller picture of the life-and-worldview I am operating within. There may be some similarities/ commonalities in our systems, and both may be broadly categorized as “Christian.” However, due to the extreme divergence that exists, one side is definitely *more* orthodox and the other is heretical. Yet, the Lord is gracious, and he knows the weakness of our frame, the intention of our hearts, and the extenuating circumstances that obtain. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?

Now to respond to some specific points you raised. You said:

1) “It has been an interesting observation, that when individuals move on to other Christian communities, the often open hostility to those who seek to be gathered to the Lord's name alone.”

To begin with, it is hardly unique to defectors from Brethrenism to react strongly against the system they have rejected. It takes an incredible spiritual toll and expense of effort to traverse a paradigm shift. Family and friends are often alienated as a result. It may actually be a change for the worse (e.g., Obama’s platform for change), but you cannot deny the costs involved in such a fundamental transition.

I trust I have never directed an attack against any person for the simple reason that he desires to gather to the Lord’s name alone. Rightly construed, I agree with the sentiment. Just as I do not attack liberals because they want to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, or shelter the homeless I do not attack Brethren for wanting to gather to the Lord’s name alone. It is not what they affirm that I detest, but what they deny.

I appreciate the desire for Christian unity on the part of JND [John Nelson Darby] and the early Brethren. The original motivation is praiseworthy. However, Darby’s principle of unity—separation from evil—was an after-the-fact justification for the original meetings, which were clearly undertaken without divine authority (new revelation) or authentication (miraculous testimony).

Separation from evil (doctrinal or moral) is a purely negative principle. First of all, it assumes the possibility of cleansing one’s self from ALL doctrinally and morally corrupting associations. Do you realize how impossible this is? It means remote, static, unchanging capital “P” Perfection, in other words, total alienation from the company of our fellow men! [And don’t worry, I believe what St. Paul said in 2 Tim. 3:19ff., just not in a rationalistic way—see below.]

Second, to make an attempt at such a thing, does not magically or automatically place one in union with Christ! How could it? Faith (a positive thing) is the divine instrument for that, not our imperfect strivings. The Church, a concrete historical society of redeemed yet sinful people—not the invisible company of all the elect—was established at Pentecost, not in 1830 or whenever it was the Brethren started meeting. All the attendees of those first meetings had previously been baptized into Christ’s fellowship in the form of the existing churches.

Descartes, the great French philosopher, tried to completely eliminate the possibility of error by subjecting everything he knew to radical doubt. He feigned to purify his intellect of all opinions and pay attention to the first thing he knew to be indubitably true. From there he would build a system of indubitable truth—truth that could not be doubted. The attempt to sustain such a project is known as Rationalism in the history of philosophy.

Similarly, Darby thought he had sufficiently purged himself of all evil associations to arrive at the primordially pure association of Christ alone. In the process of doing so, Darby gradually disassociated himself from the actual company of Christ’s people on earth to commune with the solitary “Heavenly Man” a phantasm of the real Christ who is associated with His People, which is a corporate body on earth (“Saul, Saul, Why persecutes thou me?”).

The result of the Brethren defection was the formation of a new sect. And without a Rapture bailout, the historic fruits can be clearly seen. For instance, their highly anticipated expression of visible unity failed to materialize in any stable way. A multitude of small, private, contentious, and homogeneous groups fails to qualify as a public testimony to anything other than failure.

When JND tried to reconcile many years later with his old friend George Mueller, Mueller refused to see him. The moment for reconciliation had long past. Apparently, Darby never truly repented of his schismatic proclivities for he died in separation from his old compatriot and fellow dissident, William Kelly.

2) Again, you wrote: “The struggle of those in the 1830s to break away from the established church was very real and cost many of them everything in this world. Yet they were willing to do it, because they saw that Christ was not contained in the ordinances of men through religious rituals. But was instead operating through each and every believer who names the name of Christ. There is only one mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus. Anyone or system that would interfere with must be rebelled.”

Yes. At the beginning of the 1830’s there were established churches of Christ.

Yes, paradigm shifts are costly. Many religions have produced martyrs... Why do you not accept the authority of the ecumenical councils? The Church at that time was full of men who had suffered torments because of their faithfulness to the Savior. We call them “confessors” because they confessed Christ under duress of physical torture. Orthodox Christians regularly endured persecution in various parts of the world throughout the pre-medieval period. Many of these confessors became popes, bishops, and founders of religious orders.

True, Christ is not contained—as in circumscribed—by what you term “ordinances of men.” God is perfectly free to work alongside normal means he has established. But where has he placed his Name and his promises? Is the Church an ordinance of man? Is ministerial ordination an ordinance of man? Are Baptism and the Eucharist ordinances of man?

Away with this unbelief! The God who created creaturely things, who has a stake in the world he created—after all, Jesus gave his flesh for THE LIFE OF THE WORLD (Jn. 6:51)—employs means to bring his power to bear in the world. Things, created material things, bear His grace. People bear his grace. The love of God radiates through every charitable act performed in His name. This is true of the regular ministry of the church or more informal acts of private Christian charity.

You say that anything that “interferes” with the sole mediation of Christ is to be rebelled against. By “interference” I suppose you mean every person or instrument that is conceived to channel particular graces to individuals. Do you see how faulty this is? Does not the Gospel come except through preachers who have been sent to preach (Rom. 10:14-15)? Did I not learn of Jesus on my mother’s knee? Do I not read a collection of writings that have been preserved and transmitted to me from others? Does not the kindness of Jesus come to me in the form of a cup of cold water offered in His name? Does not the Holy Ghost teach me of Christ? (I.e., The Person of the Holy Ghost is distinct from the Person of the Son.)

What is this rationalistic “mediation” of which you speak? Your conception is some kind of ahistorical, anti-social, anti-material, Gnosticism. The Book of Hebrews expounds what Christ’s Mediation truly means (Heb. 7-10). It means the royal, High-Priestly MINISTRY he undertakes between God, on one hand, and all the men he desires to save, on the other (Cf. 1 Tim. 2:4-6).

It means there is no salvation through any other than Jesus Christ, but it places no limit on the number of agents that participate in His ministry or instruments He may employ to channel the benefits procured by His redemptive Sacrifice.

Faith itself is a specially created instrument or medium for the application of these graces in time!

We are not brains in a vat, receiving direct communications from a Supreme Brain. We are created persons situated in a particular time and place, a particular context. It’s time to accept the fact that the world is fallen, but that God is active and has not abandoned the world, His Creation. It’s time to accept the fact that Christ is perfectly able to sustain His historical Church with all her sins and imperfections till the end, when He shall at last purify her completely of every spot and wrinkle.

3) You said: “You make a charge of Docetism as held by Darbyites. I do not know who you are referring too or precisely what, but regardless, the scripture clearly spells out that Christ is in heaven as a man, i.e. the first born/fruits. We too shall be like him in physical form when we too are present in glory. We shall have a body that is suitable for heaven, both physically and spiritually.”

JND was much too smart to be caught teaching straightforward Docetism. I said his doctrine of Christ tended toward Docetism. And, it should be plain by now what concerns I have about this tendency. I have attached a paper by F.F. Bruce (who was an eminent Open Brethren biblical scholar) entitled “The Humanity of Christ”, originally published in a 1973 publication of the Journal of the Christian Brethren Research Fellowship. The paper will provide you with an overview of the issues involved.

Also, I’m reading a pamphlet by JND entitled, “The Sufferings of Christ”, from which I will be able to demonstrate his heterodoxy...

You... are called to a higher standard through the good name of Christian. You should not disappoint those who were tortured and martyred, the very same who built Christian civilization for your benefit. This Civilization has been under heavy assault from within by the revolutions that began in the 17th Century with the regicide perpetrated under Cromwell. The sexual revolution is but the latest of these assaults. The spirit animating these rebellions, which is none other than the spirit of Antichrist, is that spirit that denies Christ came in the flesh to save the flesh from its corruption (1 Jn. 4:1-6; Jn. 6:51; cf. Jn. 16:33; 17:22-23).

[Here the letter concludes.]

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Unique Theological Contributions of Hebrews

  • Only Hebrews expounds the NT Church's understanding of Melchizedek.
  • No other NT writer calls Jesus a priest or titles him a High Priest.
  • No other NT writer develops the last will and testament character of the New Covenant.

Against the Darbyites: Excerpts in defense of Lent, Church authority, and the Church's indefectibility

Yes, Lent...it's the forty days of preparation before Easter. It's a penitential season marked by abstinence and fasting for those of us who "regard the day" as our fathers in the faith have done for countless generations.

...I'm glad you're willing to stick around and have a serious conversation, ___. Welcome. I'm surprised Brethren so-called admit the necessity of confession. First John 1:9 prescribes the confession of sin for both forgiveness and purification of sins. I only recall an emphasis on psychological alleviation after initial conversion, since supposedly we've been forgiven for all our sins--even those we haven't yet commited. Once saved, always saved--right? Brethren argue that any post-conversion alienation we experience due to sin is merely psychological since we have been reconciled to God and guaranteed Heaven whether we actually persevere or not.

This is not the biblical view. I believe St. John when he says we confess in order to receive judicial forgiveness and moral purification. I believe the Lord Jesus when He tells us to pray "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." I believe Him when He says only those who love, forgive, and provide restitution will be loved, forgiven, and restored. Without works, faith is dead.

I believe the Bible when it says only those who persevere to the end will be saved. (Of course, I affirm the necessity of grace--the indwelling Holy Spirit's effectual working--for this). I believe the Bible when it says our Lord gave the Apostles authority to remit and retain sins. I believe the Bible when it says the Apostles were commissioned to baptize and disciple the nations. Therefore, I believe there is a priestly, pastoral, ruling and teaching authority in the Church associated with offices that were established from the beginning.

All of these offices exist by virtue of Christ's Royal High Priestly ministry that He exercises perpetually for us. Gifts that are practiced without the authority of an office are out of order. A personal relationship with Jesus outside of a legal covenant structure is an illicit relationship. One cannot have Jesus as his Savior if he does not also accept Him as his Lord (King and Master).

Because of Christ's faithfulness, His Church will not fail. Perhaps parts of it can be cut off, but the whole can never be destroyed. The gates of hell cannot prevail against it. Only those who agree with Korah's rebellious spirit (Jude 11; Num. 16:3) are deluded enough to believe that the entire Church fell away in the apostolic period. The Revelation to St. John (the last NT prophecy to be committed to writing) demonstrates that at least seven churches in Asia had not completely fallen away. St. Paul had already been executed by this time (we know this from Church tradition and only Church tradition). [Explanation: Darbyites believe the Church fell away as a public testimony to the Gospel and the unity of the Body in the apostolic period.]

We possess writings by contemporaries of the Apostles, men that were personally discipled by them and martyred. There is much of value in the writings of the Fathers. We read Holy Scripture in light (especially) of what the Holy Spirit taught them concerning the doctrines of God (the Trinity) and Christ (wholly God and wholly man, without confusion or separation) through the holy scriptures they were given the privelege to preserve, collect, and canonize by ecclesiastical authority.

I am prepared to demonstrate that the faith of the Church Fathers is in full conformity with the original deposit of Scripture, while acceding to the reality that their understanding was imperfect in many areas. It was given to later generations to flesh out the teaching of Scripture on other matters.

Anyway, I wasn't originally referring to the Church Fathers. I was referring to all the fathers in the faith that connect us to the first generation Church through an unbroken line of historic succession.

The Church is not the United States. The United States does not have Christ's guarantee that it will be preserved until the end of time. However, like He prayed for St. Peter, Jesus prays for us that our faith will not fail.

Postscript: Because there is disciplinary authority in the Church to pastor Christian disciples, prescribed feasts and fasts have been observed since the earliest times. The OT church had its own festivals and penitential seasons. The NT church has its correlative observances in light of Christ's coming and accomplished work of redemption. For the Christian, all things (including times) are holy but there is variation between them. Because divine goodness is multifaceted, not all times are the same. For example, Sunday is different from all the other days of the week.

To deny we should ever fast or feast in anticipation/ commemoration of significant redemptive events is basically the error of denying there are appropriate times for communal joy and sorrow. There is a time to mourn and a time to rejoice. To say it's pointless for Christians in general to engage in collective repentance is to say that collective repentance is pointless.

Of course, you Brethren deny the collective integrity of the Church on earth. In fact, anything having to do with material things/ the body is suspect because it's not spiritual enough. Ever heard of Docetism? John Nelson Darby's doctrine of Christ's heavenly humanity is definitely docetic in tendency.

Unfortunately for your theories, fasting is New Testament practice: Jesus, the disciples, and St. Paul all fasted. When was the last time you ever fasted, if ever?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

What is Civilization?

Russ Smith, my friend and fellow parishioner with whom I have debated monarchy in the past, provided an interesting challenge to a conventional use of the term “civilization.” In the good ol’ days, especially before colonialism became a bad thing, terms like “civilization” and “civilized” carried a moral connotation that implicitly judged all other human societies against the superior standard of western Civilization. Russ objects to this sort of Eurocentrism, and wants to reserve the term to a technical use that denotes a particular form of social organization.

A Confusion of Categories?

Russ writes, “the term ‘civilization’ is a description of a particular type of order… this view of civilization demands that the term be value-neutral… The problem with using the term ‘civilized’ in both a descriptive and evaluative sense is that it blurs that distinction between what all civilizations must share and the particulars that set them apart from each other… ‘civilized’ is properly a category of order… [not] a category of justice.”

To be clear, Russ does not object to Eurocentrist language because he is a cultural relativist. He clearly wants to call some civilizations better and others worse. Russ is concerned that “the [moral] standard of evaluation be external to the civilization in question and objective.” I share with Russ this concern that we not conflate the ideal with an imperfect historical instance.

Yet, as a Christian who accepts the biblical revelation, I would not characterize the antitheses between Greek-Barbarian and Jew-Gentile (under the old covenant) the same way. The Greeks were never the chosen people of God, but the Hebrews were. Furthermore, the Jewish order (c. 2000 B.C. - A.D. 70) was the historical instantiation of the Kingdom of God. I would further say that Christian civilization has succeeded OT Jewish civilization as the present social instantiation of God’s Kingdom. In this present phase of the Kingdom, the locus of order has moved from a national religio-political center (Earthly Jerusalem) to a universal religio-political center (Heavenly Jerusalem).

As something of a Christian Platonist, I have no problem with saying that a particular thing can participate in an ideal without being absolutely identical to the ideal itself. As something of a Christian Aristotelian, I can say that something can be in the process of actualizing its potential or achieving its perfection without being perfect. As a Christian who confesses the communion of the saints, I can say that the historic Church Militant is presently identified with the Church Expectant and will on the Last Day become the Church Triumphant, yet there is only one Church.

It may be that the present historic Church is sinful, incomplete and imperfect. The eschatological Church will be spotless and perfect. Without a realistic metaphysic of identity guaranteeing continuity, there would be (at least) three separate churches. However, because there is one Lord who has one Body, there is one Church (Eph. 4:4-5). In Christ all things have their being (Col. 1:17) and the Church being his fullness (Eph. 1:23) is one.

Civilization Defined

Returning to the question at hand, “What is civilization,” Russ has offered a working definition of his value-free notion of civilization. Russ says that civilization is “a way of ordering groups of people that are too large to be managed as individuals.” Developing his thought further, Russ explains that this means that the disparate interests that inevitably arise in a large population must lead to a reduced degree of homogeneity. Consequently, impersonal management techniques must be developed to neutrally arbitrate between the differences. Now, I’m sure Russ does not want to be held too strictly to this definition, and he is free to offer a fuller and more nuanced definition any time he wants.

Because my definition of civilization is assuredly not his, I’d like to briefly consider the four elements of Russ’ proffered definition: large population, disparate interests, reduced homogeneity, and impersonal management technique. Further, I’d like to consider whether these elements are as value free as Russ suggests.

As far as population goes, Russ has indicated that some sort of “civilization barrier” is broken when a population grows larger than a moderately sized town. So, apparently the rules of civilization come into play when we deal with groups composed of several thousands to several hundreds of millions. That’s quite a range!

Last year, Wal-Mart the largest company in the world, employed about 2,055,000 employees. The population of ancient Egypt (c. 2000 B.C.) was this size. Wal-Mart employs people of every age, sex, race, class and religious persuasion. In order to manage their employees, Wal-Mart executives employ impersonal management techniques in the form of human resource policy. So, according to Russ’ definition, it would seem that Wal-Mart is a civilization!

But, of course Russ doesn’t think Wal-Mart is a civilization, and neither do I. The definition we have been considering is incomplete. In addition to a large population and all that comes with it, a particular human society must possess an additional quality that sets it apart as a civilization. This quality must be some general interest or purpose that binds its people into a unity. And this common purpose must be able to trump any special interest that might threaten the integrity of the whole.

(To be continued…)

Conservative Spam

Last week, I was listening to Dennis Prager discuss the bank bailouts and economic stimulus packages that have been railroaded through Congress lately. During the discussion, one of the studio personnel related a quotation from an 18th century writer by the name of "Tyler."

The quotation basically intimated that all democracies must ultimately fail because voters will eventually discover they can vote themselves money from the public treasury. For obvious reasons, I was intrigued by the quotation and decided to look it up. Maybe Tyler had written other good things.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered "Tyler's" quotation is a conservative urban legend that has circulated by email since the Bush-Gore 2000 presidential race but is actually decades old. The quotation, allegedly from Alexander Tyler's Fall of the Athenian Republic, read:

A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts (or "largesse") from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:

From bondage to spiritual faith;
From spiritual faith to great courage;
From courage to liberty;
From liberty to abundance;
From abundance to complacency;
From complacency to apathy;
From apathy to dependence;
From dependence back into bondage.

According to Wikipedia, the supposed author to whom this quotation is attributed was Alexander Fraser Tytler (d. 1813), a Scottish lawyer and writer who lived at the time our Republic was founded. There is no record that Tytler ever wrote a book entitled The Fall of the Athenian Republic. In reality, however, the quotation is from several sources. Read this article by Loren Collins for more information.

From Wikipedia:

The passage actually comprises two quotations, which didn't begin to appear together until the 1970's. The list beginning "From bondage to spiritual faith" is commonly known as the "Tytler Cycle" or the "Fatal Sequence". Its first known appearance is in a 1943 speech "Industrial Management in a Republic" by H. W. Prentis, president of the Armstrong Cork Company and former president of the National Association of Manufacturers. The quote appears to be original to Prentis. No original author can reliably be determined for the first paragraph.

It is possible that whoever first made the statement [in the first paragraph] was paraphrasing or drawing a conclusion from a different quotation by Tytler. So, what did Alexander Tytler actually say?

The real statement reads:

It is not, perhaps, unreasonable to conclude, that a pure and perfect democracy is a thing not attainable by man, constituted as he is of contending elements of vice and virtue, and ever mainly influenced by the predominant principle of self-interest. It may, indeed, be confidently asserted, that there never was that government called a republic, which was not ultimately ruled by a single will, and, therefore, (however bold may seem the paradox,) virtually and substantially a monarchy.

(From Bartleby's Dictionary of Quotations)

I happen to agree with the substance of both quotations. The apocryphal quotation lacks the authority of a single author, and cannot be considered a prophetic statement about the course of the American experiment.

However, the "Fatal Sequence" seems logical--almost a historical law-- and examples of it are plentiful in history. Also, it would be an useful historical inquiry to determine whether in every historical democracy has degenerated because of loose fiscal policy. Is it the case that the citizenry of democracies will invariably vote for funds to benefit themselves and/ or their own interests without regard for the long term consequences?

Finally, the actual quotation by Tytler, suggesting that in fact no true democracy has ever existed, is an important point. There is no such thing as the "will of the people." There can only be compromise resolutions between whatever interests have representation. If in fact a general will does not exist, what single will actually does rule? Perhaps, the single will is constituted by a succession of overriding impulses that characterize the national mood at particular times [e.g., national self-determination, egalitarianism, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the market, the preservation of the union, democratic populism, civil rights, equal preference satisfaction (i.e., freedom of choice), etc.].

And if no single will actually governs U.S. policy, could it be that we are being led in a direction--toward an end--that has actually been chosen by nobody? Are we so dedicated to a theoretically perfect system of checks and balances that we have accepted a simulacrum of actual government in place of the real thing--concrete authority, principled policy, and just judgment?