"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Jesus And The Revival Tent–The Big Top Circus Of Personal Salvation

The Catholic Church has always been an advocate for reason.  Augustine and Aquinas were among many of the theologians who taught that faith without reason is like a cow without a bull.  Fertile, but unfulfilled.

Reason, said Athanasius, Clement of Alexandria, and Polycarp, was the foundation of belief without which one would flounder in endless seas of desperation.  The mystery of the Trinity could and should be understood.  Man, God both distinct, indistinct, mediated, alone….none of these seemingly contradictory notions are beyond human reason.  One might wonder at the enfolding, here and there, impossibly uncharted nature of God, but approximation is the essence of faith.  A glimpse, a ‘darshan’, a scintilla of understanding is enough, as long as one pays for the journey.

St. Augustine of Hippo - Saints & Angels - Catholic Online

Protestant evangelicals, on the other hand, have no truck with such spiritual stamina.  It is enough to believe that Jesus is one’s personal savior in order to be saved.  He is here now, only to be recognized, embraced, and loved in order for salvation.

Bobby Ray Billings was a member of the Southern Baptist Assembly, Mississippi Charter, Lowndes County affiliate, and he had been saved.  He remembered the day – the third Sunday of November, a wickedly cold day, frost on the last of the zinnias, rime on the acacias, and ice on the Catawalpa Bridge.  He had known something big was in the offing since the moment he had awakened.  

The morning sunlight was hardly visible through the freezing fog over the Tombigbee.  The shadows of the oak limbs were slight and indistinct; but there was a tenor to the day, a special quality of….here he searched for words….goodness.  It was Sunday, the fifth Sunday of the exegetical calendar, the day of hope and forgiveness. 

He berated himself for having slept for so long, having lain in bed when preparations for the coming of the spirit were waiting; but on arising, it all came back and clear.  This was the day.  This was his day.  Of course he knew that one could not plan epiphany or salvation.  Jesus alone determined which and when sinners would be saved; but he had intimations, sensations of revelation. 

He hurried to dress in his Sunday best – polished shoes, buttoned up vest, and a carefully-knotted tie – and he stepped out into the cold, dreary, but gloriously bright, spiritual day. Jesus was coming to the Third Baptist Church of Columbus, and he would meet him there.

“Nonsense”, said Pope Paul II. Evangelical sects were at best false prophets and at worst circus side shows. There was no way that Jesus Christ could be anyone’s personal savior.  His power and glory were universal, accessible to all under strict conditions.  One might hope for personal salvation, but the love of Jesus and the keys to the eternal kingdom of heaven had no particularity.  The unique sophistication of the Church was due to its intellectual demands and its disdain for spiritual brevity.

Image result for Images Pope Paul II. Size: 133 x 204. Source: www.mygodpictures.com

It is no wonder that so many poor, spiritually hungry souls of America took the bait of evangelical preachers and were shaken to their roots upon hearing the word ‘Salvation’! 

Megachurches are filled to overflowing, tele-evangelical television channels are oversubscribed, and the simple churches of Columbus, Mississippi packed to the rafters.

Father Aloysius Brophy of St. Anne’s Catholic Church had been reprimanded by his archbishop for losing parishioners to the storefront churches.   Why hadn’t he done anything to stem the tide of souls? Where was his enterprise, his faith, and his spiritual energy?

It was easy to see why the Catholic Church was in decline. Why would anyone belong to a church which demanded such doctrinal purity, obedience to an autocratic prince, and an understanding of the Church’s victory over second century heresies?

Pastor Armand Philipps, rector of the Bobby Ray’s church, had his calling at age seven on the streets of Baltimore.  He had been whipped, abused, and left to the care of the state when he found Jesus in a battered purchase in the B&O railyards where he and his mates were preparing to derail the 442 to Newark.  Jesus had lit up the tracks, appeared to him in glorious raiment, and anointed him there on the spot; and forever afterwards he was His servant.

Salvation went to his head just as it had to Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and Jerry Falwell.   There was nothing that would stand in the way of his mission, and nothing would stop the fruits of His glory bestowed on him, a repentant sinner.

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Armand had  become pastor of the First Columbus Baptist church at 25, and people from as far as Meridien came to hear him preach. He was part Old Testament, bearded, ferocious, crazed prophet, part New Testament loving and compassionate Christian, and part social reformer, fulminating against buggery, adultery, fornication, and swamp  tomfoolery.  He expanded the church tenfold, increased attendance by twentyfold, and was called to Washington by the leader of the Southern Baptist Convention.

He had left Father Brophy on the curb with his catechisms, communion, and palm Sundays and with dwindling congregants and resources. The Christian tide had, thank God, turned and Protestant Biblical righteousness was being restored.

The Vatican had gotten wind of this turn of events.  Its Nuncio in Washington had been advised to take notice.  While Mississippi was insignificant within a global context and in already held by the thralls of evangelism, the precipitous, calamitous losses of Catholics to  the other side was worrying, indicative, and troublesome. 

As the Church saw more and more Catholic losses, it convened a Vatican Council in absentia – a misnomer, but an important congregation nonetheless.  Its purpose was to define an aggressive strategy to reposition the Church as the primus inter pares of Christian denominations on the grounds of history – it, through its papal line and adherence to First Church doctrine, was the true church.  It hired Baker, Bernstein, Allard, & Fled, a prominent political marketing consultancy group in Washington to head the promotional effort.  

‘Come Back To The Real Christ’ was the tagline.  ‘The Church Awaits’; but those who had already found Jesus as their personal savior were not interested; and those in spiritual need wanted evangelism’s storefront quick fix.  The Catholic Church was in a bind.

Image result for Images Jesus walking on Water. Size: 214 x 204. Source: www.lookandlearn.com

The Vatican’s American office quickly changed agencies and redesigned and reconfigured its image into a muscular, Crusades-oriented one.  ‘Victory’, ‘Godhead’, and ‘Valor’ featured.  Enough Jesus-loves-all happy talk. it was time to revive and conquer.

As might be expected, the campaign made little dent in the evangelical flux.  Catholic churches folded and those which remained, entertained only the aged and infirm. 

America is nothing if not a work in progress, so there is little doubt that traditional, conservative Catholicism will return. Middle America will soon have had enough transgender, black-is-beautiful, say gay, baby unfriendly ‘inclusivity’ and quick, unsatisfying spiritual fixes and will come back to the fold.  Paul, Aquinas, Augustine, the Apostles, and walking on water will once again be on the menu du jour.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

A Gay, A Straight, And A Trans Walk Into A Bar–The Comic Nature Of Diversity

FutureX, a startup company in Iowa was told by its board of directors that it had to institute diversity training in order to protect itself from lawsuits.  The state had never had a problem with diversity since it had few minorities to worry about. Its black population was one of the lowest in the country and concentrated in urban areas, its gay population insignificant, and transgender almost nil; so when the Managing Director of FutureX was told that he had to initiate a series of sensitivity session to ‘raise awareness of America’s historical oppression of minorities and by so doing reduce or eliminate racial discrimination and hatred’, he was unsure what to do.  It was like proving a negative, he thought.  Raising awareness of a problem which did not exist was at best an irrelevant and unnecessary enterprise.

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“Yes”, said Kenya Johnson, Director of Sensitivity Plus, a diversity training firm in Dubuque, “but that doesn’t mean that your white folk don’t have racist feelings.  It’s an innate white thing. They do”.

Ms. Johnson went on to explain her methodology, one built on three pillars.  The first was to review white racism in America from the arrival of the first ‘enslaved people’ to the present day, to show its ubiquity, persistent virulence, and corrosive nature. “Every white man is racist”, she went on, “and the sooner they realize this, the better”.  It would be uncomfortable coming out of the racist closet, she went on, but necessary.

The second pillar was to show the racial preeminence of the black man, his heroism in fighting enslavement, his cultural legacy and historical pride, and his essential humanity which had never been eroded by the unmanning and dehumanizing nature of capitalism like the white man.  “A black man’s poverty is his faith”, she said.

The third pillar was to explain how separate but equal, the previously disparaged notion of the South, had a new interpretation and revived relevance.  “Only through association with one’s fellow oppressed Americans, can black people consolidate their pride, increase their sense of self-worth, and generate a strong, revolutionary spirt of anti-racism.  Black bleachers, black fraternities, black clubs, and black venues are the symbols of racial solidarity.”

The Managing Director of FutureX listened patiently but was perplexed.  He remembered Martin Luther King and his integrationist message, pictures of whites and blacks holding hands as they crossed the Pettis bridge. He remembered the white boys who lost their lives in Mississippi, and the inspirational sermons spoken by both white and black ministers.

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“Times have changed”, Ms. Johnson  replied and helped herself to a cruller.

The problem was that the county in which FutureX was located was solidly conservative, and while the racial politics of the cities and the coasts were distant distractions, its conservatism was fundamental.  It was an ethos and a governing philosophy.  Foundational values of enterprise, individualism, freedom, and patriotism were taken for granted not as political ideas alone but as part of God’s plan – the one enunciated by Jefferson in the Bill of Rights.  

It was not hard to see how this conservative ethos would extend to both racial and sexual matters.  Acceptance, tolerance, and respect were part of the conservative code, so Iowans would have no problem with either black people or gays; but the kind of aggressive, doctrinaire, bullying that were explicitly clear in Ms. Johnson’s precis, would be unacceptable.

A technique of sensitivity training was to divide employee groups by race and gender, but because FutureX had no minorities to speak of, Ms. Johnson had to recalibrate and rethink her approach.  Without blacks, Latinos, and gays facing off, there was no way to get the ball rolling.  So, she tried her ‘second tier’ approach – ancestry.  Every American has an immigrant history, and those ancestors from Europe certainly faced discrimination and oppression.  “The Italians, Jews, and Irish among you know what I am talking about”; but the assembly was quiet.  None of them had such roots, and most had neither known nor were that interested in their Northern European and Scandinavian forefathers.  Once they set foot on American soil, they were Americans.  One had no need to look back.

Image result for family photos 19th century italian immigrants to america

Ms. Johnson tried to elicit some kind of meanness in this story, some glimpse of ethnic oppression; but there was none to be found.  If anything, the land was the adversary; but each of these westward pioneers had desire, energy, and optimism.  They had made their own way, staked out their land, worked it, tilled it, harvested it, and raised their families.

Of course these Iowans were aware of ‘diversity’.  Most had taken their wives to see the Steven Spielberg updated version of West Side Story, and imagined the happy life of Puerto Ricans in New York – lots of enchiladas, chili peppers, and Cuban coffee, dancing, and camaraderie. 

They also couldn’t avoid the hammering of race, gender, and ethnicity on the national media; but when they had the patience to watch, they came away not with a sense of outrage, guilt, and responsibility for racial unrest and inner city dysfunction, but with anger.  How many decades had passed with public monies invested in social change and racial equality with no result?  Ghettoes were still ghettoes, and despite the black faces everywhere on television, the streets of Washington, Baltimore, St. Louis, and Detroit were still unruly, unruled, and dangerous.

This was just what Ms. Johnson had been waiting for, an opportunity to get at the ‘systemic racism’ of all Americans.  Even though these sod-busting hicks had no firsthand experience of racism, they were not unaware of it, so she was sure that when she showed the recent civil unrest over ‘police brutality’, it would evoke sympathy for the plight of the black man; but these Iowans, under no pressure of liberal, progressive, Eastern opprobrium – no race-gender-ethnicity juggernaut had come this far west – reacted neutrally and, at least as far as Ms. Johnson was concerned, more analytically than she thought they every could.  It was a classic deconstruction of events – antecedents, proof, comparative history, details of suspicion, arrest, and detention  - and similar questioning about the post-arrest uproar, violence and destruction.

She told the Managing Director that she had never come up against such systemic racism in any workplace and she could not make a dent.  Her only recourse was to report FutureX to the proper authorities.

Her plan for dealing with sexism was no different, built on the same three pillars – a review of persistent male chauvinism, discredited heterosexual orthodoxy; a demonstration of the essential rightness and goodness of the ‘homosexual being’; and a detailed presentation of the gender spectrum.  “Our course is not for the faint of heart”, she said.  “We will show the falsity of straightness, its antiquarian notions, its inherent prejudice, and its total irrelevance.  By contrast we will address human sexual diversity, dismiss doctrinaire notions of XX and YY imperatives, and pave the way for all Americans, young and old, to reject their limiting, artificial sexual past and get on the soul train.”

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Because her contract stipulated a session on gender equality, she, despite her misgivings because of the dismal failure of the racism part of the course, had a go; but she was unprepared for the reaction of the employees. They had a genuine respect for black people, and although they disapproved of much of their behavior, attitude, and social miscreancy, theirs was a criticism of the socio-economic group, not the racial one.  They rejected the claim of universal white racism, and were quite right to do so. 

However, when it came to Ms. Johnson’s videos of transgender fashion shows, growly male-turned female athletes, and the ins-and outs of curious spots on the gender spectrum, they lost all sense of decorum.  It was a side show, a Barnum & Bailey three ring circus, a vaudevillian act, a fantasy of comic book proportion.  They could not hold in their applause, their cheers, and standup bravos.

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Ms. Johnson was completely nonplussed; and barely contained herself.  “These animals”, she said to herself.  “These backcountry crackers, apes….”, but realized that as private as these thoughts might be, they were unfitting for a Director of Diversity at a well-known inclusivity consulting firm. 

“That’s my point”, she said when the playground antics had quieted down; but couldn’t quite articulate or express whatever it was she was thinking.  Something about their own deviance, a twisted Biblical hatred, a barroom buddy joke; but nothing coalesced, so she just smiled, thanked everyone for their participation, signed the release form with the Managing Director, and left.

The sensitivity training session was the talk of the office and of the town for days; but it too faded in memory and importance.  Whether or not Kenya Johnson became more appreciative of the complexity of the issues she was presenting; or whether she hardened in her own hostility and prejudice, no one will ever know because she left Iowa for good.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Empire And Imperial Rule–High Civilization And Today’s Low Culture Of Historical Revisionism

Reformism and Revisionism are the two memes which best describe 21st century America.   The past  is nothing but a sorry history of oppression, imperialism, and war.  The empires of Greece, Rome, Persia, India, China, and Britain were nothing but courts of privileged, autocratic rule, stopped only by revolution and the guillotine.  Their legacy is only one of feudalism, slavery, and excess; and the modern age continues to suffer the consequences of their rule. America today, say revisionists, has still not expunged the traces of racism, monarchism, and perpetual greed. 

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Yet, despite the desecration of ruled peoples, the aggrandizement of wealth and power, marauding armies, autocratic churches and their clerical enforcers, there are still those who insist on the greatness of empire and who look to  the art and culture of the Italian Renaissance, the philosophical and moral foundations of Ancient Greece, Imperial China, the Guptas, Ashoka and the Mauryan court, or the laws and civil codes of Britain for inspiration.

The myopic insularity of revisionists – their insistence on viewing history only through the deconstructionist lenses of race, gender, ethnicity, and progressivism – prevents a more comprehensive view of European and Asian empires and high culture and civilization they created. Since all previous empires have practiced slavery, they are ipso facto historical pariahs.  Slavery, the most inhuman and innately evil human institution dictates historical appraisal.  Any civilization which practiced slavery is necessarily and irremediably corrupt; and every other cultural attainment is by infection, corrupt.  Slaves built the pyramids, Athenian temples, the gardens of Persepolis, the imperial palaces of Mandarins and shoguns; and as such they can be looked at only as products of inhumanity and ignorance.

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The reigns of the Sun King, Henry VIII, Qin Shi Huang, Meiji, Xerxes, and Cyrus were all patriarchal.  Women were either courtiers or concubines, chattels for reproduction and show.  They were insignificant and supernumerary, without importance.  They left no mark on history except as footnotes as the mother of kings. No civilization with such disregard for women, which enslaved them and used them for the pleasure of men can be regarded with any respect.  Patriarchy and misogyny like racism ipso facto denies any cultural legitimacy.

The untold wealth of these empires, derived from brutal territorial conquest, the spoils of war, and on the back of the oppressed – regardless of its investment in architecture, art, palaces, and monuments – is necessarily tainted, an example of pre-capitalistic concentration of wealth for the benefit of the few and at the expense of the many.

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To most observers such historical myopia is surprising.  Although politics and political philosophy always color and distort perception – or at the very least provide its foundation – the current refusal to look at history through any lens other than the current, politically correct one is more narrow and ignorantly restrictive than of any political movement in recent history.  Other political reformists have learned from the past – without understanding the historical antecedents of current events one cannot trace their roots to see how deeply embedded they are, how extensive, and how pervasive.  They have focused on cause and effect, investment and result, intention and consequences within a structured context.  Blanket condemnation of an historical era based on presumption of universal guilt is useless and irrelevant.

There is an adolescence about today’s progressivism – a mix of political testosterone, youthful exuberance, and American utopianism, a perfect storm of limited vision and emotional excess.  Righteousness simply feels good. A broad sweep of the historical brush is consistent with simple beliefs and simple conclusions. 

This simplicity makes belonging much easier, camaraderie within the big tent happier.  A movement based on intellectual premises, complete with inconsistencies and philosophical debate cannot cohere as completely as one with singularity of purpose and vision. It is enough to believe that past societies were irremediably corrupt to associate with other believers; enough to wear the badge of membership.  Race, gender, ethnicity! is a battle cry, an emblem, a banner.  It is its own liturgy, doxology, and article of faith.

it is no accident that today’s progressivism has been compared to religious fundamentalism.  Evangelical Christians need only to believe that Jesus is their personal savior to be saved.  They do not need the fol-de-rol of the Catholic Church, the doctrinal mysteries of the trinity, the insights of Athanasius, Clement, or Polycarp.  They do not need the intellectual foundations of the Church, the writings of Aquinas and Augustine, the teachings of Paul, or the Renaissance popes.  Progressives are no different.  Their belief is even simpler than that of Protestant fundamentalists – they do not even need an intermediary like Jesus.  Belief is its own prophet and its own disciple.

Image result for Images Clement of Alexandria. Size: 186 x 105. Source: www.christianitytoday.com

Traditional liberalism is a history of cause, purpose, and idealism; and the current vogue is no different. Many older liberals cut their teeth on civil rights and the war in Vietnam; but once those causes lost traction, they were quick to embrace new ones.  Race, gender, and ethnicity as part of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusivity’ has filled the moral void and gave them a renewed voice in the name of social justice and moral rectitude.  Global warming soon followed, and progressives found ways to fold race, gender, and ethnicity all under its umbrella.  If any one issue were to luff, there would be many other to take up the slack.

There has always been a move to simplicity in progressivism, a kind of stasis, a tendency toward an undisturbed level of thought, a folding in of similar or allied causes, an uncritical blending of ideas which demand no analysis.

Political optimists feel that collective human action can indeed bring about a better, more just, and more equitable world.  Man is indeed perfectible, and the only reason that greed, venality, and untamed ambition still exist in the world is because the most righteous among us have not done enough. Human society is progressing as surely as the soul of the faithful Hindu is evolving over time and many incarnations before finally reaching nirvana.  It is no surprise that these political idealists resemble evangelicals who also believe that with right behavior we can all enter paradise.  For evangelicals this ascension is to the right hand of God.  For progressives it is to a secular utopia.

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Conservatives believe that man, society, and human nature have not changed since we came down from the trees.  We are as aggressive, territorial, self-protective, and self-interested as ever; but these innate traits can be positive as well as negative.  Without ambition and the desire for wealth, power, and influence there would be no great civilizations.  Ever since the first primitive communities were formed, human societies have regulated the most extreme forms of human expression and taken advantage of the leadership and vision of the strongest and most able. The economic market with its countervailing forces and laws of supply and demand is but one example of this characteristic. All aspects of life – whether in the family or nation -  are governed by issues of power, dominance, and the acquisition of wealth and resources. The individual is either pitted against other individuals or joined together with them for collective advantage; but no higher moral value involved.

The juggernaut of reformism still has inertia and has become no more nuanced or complex than it ever was.  ‘Race’ has never been a social, historical, and economic marker but an icon and a meme.  ‘Race’ means white oppression and nothing more.  It is not meant to invite analysis of the reasons why the persistent dysfunction of the inner city, the continuing need for affirmative action, the seemingly never-ending flow of public monies with little demonstrable result, an objective look at the degree to which white perceptions influence black performance, and a hundred other legitimate appraisals of race in America.

Gender – homosexuality, transgenderism, sexual ‘abuse’, and the glass ceiling – is no different.  The word implies male oppression and goes no further – no nuance, no in-depth insights into sexual dynamics, marriage, or relationships. ‘Gender’ is a meaningless concept for all but the most idealistic political reformists.

When will it all end? ask Americans hammered every day with news about race and gender, subjected to sensitivity workshops, and seeing their freedoms of expression and speech censured.  For them simplicity of motive is not only not enough, it is ignorance at its worst, a dumbing down of discourse, and an autocratic presumption of right and wrong.  

Censure, revisionism, and the cancel culture cannot last much longer.  Americans have had enough, are tired of sanctimony, the lionization of minorities, and the arrogant dismissal of the civilized past.