Happy Thanksgiving

christian-thanksgivingGive Thanks to the Lord!

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the lands!
     Serve the Lord with gladness!
    Come into his presence with singing!

 Know that the Lord is God!
    It is he that made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise!
    Give thanks to him, bless his name!

 For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures for ever,
    and his faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 100 (RSV)

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Mainline Christianity and Progressive Politics (9)

moral-hazard-ethicsThe Moral Hazard of Intentions Based Policy

Some readers may have been wondering how a series of posts titled “Mainline Christianity and Progressive Politics” could have focused almost exclusively on general Progressives for so long.  The answer is that Mainline Christian politics (from the leadership and organizational perspective) is often virtually indistinguishable from secular Progressive politics.  The only difference is that a sentence here or there in Mainline political statements might mention Jesus or the Bible or something else vaguely religious in origin.

For the last four posts I have been indirectly describing the “moral hazard” associated with the intentions based policy philosophy used (though certainly not exclusively) by Progressives (Christian or otherwise).  A useful definition for this term is:

Moral hazard is a situation where somebody has the opportunity to take advantage of somebody else by taking risks that the other will pay for. The idea is that people might ignore the moral implications of their choices: instead of doing what is right, they do what benefits them the most.

end-poverty-now

Intention: Demonstrate superior virtue.  Result: Assume unbearable moral hazard.

It’s now time to directly call out the key dimensions of moral hazard into which Progressivism has fallen headfirst.

Votes and Political Power

In the recent presidential election candidate Donald Trump asked black voters: “What do you have to lose by trying something new?”  Candidate  Hillary Clinton wasted no time in answering that question: “What do black people stand to lose under Trump? Everything!”  Her response adds additional evidence to the conclusion that Progressives literally believe that Republican’s “bad intentions” will inexorably lead to “bad results.”

However, this incident also illuminates a massive moral hazard for Democrats.  For, given that they depend on 90%+ of black votes for continuance of their political power, isn’t it far more certain that the Democrat Party would lose “everything” were the black community to lessen their level of support?

So, given that current welfare, education and crime policies (among others) have created this massive block voting by the black community, the downside to any reforms that might lead to improvements in their lot could be political death.  Given the stakes, is it really credible that Democratic politicians, bureaucrats and supporters are so morally superior that they are immune to such a temptation?  I say absolutely not.

Codependent Relationships

If your self-image is that of a Progressive “hero” who delivers the best possible results to the designated “beneficiaries” because of your “good” intentions, then it could become acceptable for those beneficiaries to remain in need.  If you have been a “beneficiary” and become dependent, then you also could come to desire that the Progressive “heroes” remain in power.  This codependence can tempt both sides into supporting a failing status quo.

Hate-Based Self Esteem

If your self-image is that of a morally superior “hero,” then besides the need for “beneficiaries” there is the need for “villains.”  However, beyond providing “proof” of your own moral superiority, “villains” also can become objects of hate.  That’s because the “heroes” can begin to believe that “villains” exist not because they make honest errors or hold mistaken beliefs, but because they harbor “bad intentions.”  So, the Progressive moral model demands that the world be split into “heroes,” “villains” and “beneficiaries.”  Thus, our shared humanity can be denied, creating a world with greater strife and violence.  And so, Progressives obtain their fraudulent fantasies of moral superiority at the expense of other human beings and create a debased culture in the process.

Works-Based Salvation

If you are a Christian who erroneously seeks a works-based mark of salvation, you might well be drawn to the easy moral superiority promised by adherence to Progressive politics.  “Evidence” for a works-based salvation can be most easily found by comparing oneself to others.  Is there currently a more potent, visible ideology that allows the manufacture of accredited “heroes” and “villains” than Progressivism?  And, if you are a Mainline Progressive Christian leader, might the temptation to encourage such false belief in order to advance your preferred political policies be strong?

There is another dimension to this theological error, that being the narrowing of Christian virtue and vocation to only those acts directly associated with Progressive sources.  Thus, for example, were a person in their private-sector job to enable creation of many well-paying jobs (through honest, hard work) throughout the world, it may not count as “good works” in the Progressive Christian worldview.  That’s because, by their blinkered definition, these works were not motivated by approved “good intentions.”

Therefore, those of us who define our Christian vocation as encompassing all of our lives are yet regularly harangued by believers who only allow their pet Progressive Christian projects to be included in “good works.”  They literally don’t appear to care that we are generating good results outside of their narrowly defined domain.

Of course, I am not here thinking of good works as having anything to do with our salvation in Christ.  Rather they are thank-offerings for that undeserved grace by which we have been saved through Christ Jesus.

Finally, trusting souls are told that slavish adherence to secular Progressive positions makes them into “super Christians.”  That is, because of their superior Progressive-derived “good intentions” they hold a special place of authority in the church.  From that fraudulent perch they decide what works are actually Christian.  They also sometimes imagine that they are free to misinterpret the Bible as necessary to bring its teachings into line with the positions determined by the secular Progressive elite.



This analysis may explain why Progressives have such a powerful compulsion to claim moral superiority.  For, by virtue of the scope and aggressiveness of their ideology they unavoidably place themselves in positions of great moral hazard.  Only by presuming that they have moral purity and perfection far beyond that of normal humanity can they convince themselves that their power will not result in bad, even evil results.  Of course, this presumption is built from pure fantasy, as they are made of the same fallen moral material as is everyone else.  However, the fact that they so convince themselves of falsehood makes them far more dangerous when in power, and far more fragile and unstable when they are on the outs.



 

Mainline Christianity and Progressive Politics (8)

Amy-Wax-and-Larry-Alexander-e1503967429284-620x435

Amy Wax and Larry Alexander

Intentions vs. Results 2017 Case Study: Professors Amy Wax and Larry Alexander

The Sin

In August of this year two tenured professors, each holding an endowed chair, published an article titled “Paying the price for the breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture” in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  They are Amy Wax from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Larry Alexander from the University of San Diego Law School.

These two authors described the social norms and personal behaviors that were generally supported prior to the 1960s and that continue to enable productive, fulfilled lives to this day, those being:

Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.

While they might have gotten away with praise of these once obvious virtues, they committed unpardonable sin against the Progressive idol by recommending that these virtues be uplifted once again in today’s culture.  They didn’t mince words.

… restore the hegemony of the bourgeois culture. …  will require the arbiters of culture — the academics, media, and Hollywood — to relinquish multicultural grievance polemics and the preening pretense of defending the downtrodden. Instead of bashing the bourgeois culture, they should return to the 1950s posture of celebrating it.

The Progressive Response

The Progressive response was eerily more like the Cultural Revolution in 1966 China than the operating of academic freedom in a liberal democratic republic, with these brave authors being denounced as racist (and worse!).  Here’s a quote from a statement by 54 Penn graduate students and alums.  By the way, if you still have any doubts about the intention-based model’s assumed simple-mindedness in this earlier post, I now rest may case.

We call for the University of Pennsylvania administration — Penn President Gutmann and the deans of each school — as well as faculty to directly confront Wax and Alexander’s op-ed as racist and white supremacist discourse and to push for an investigation into Wax’s advocacy for white supremacy. We believe that such statements should point directly to the historical and sociopolitical antecedents of Wax’s hate speech, and to disallow hate speech whether shrouded in respectability or not.

Refusal to Bend the Knee

For their part, neither author backed down.  Amy Wax’s response was both lucid and unflinching.

What the objections boil down to is that the bourgeois virtues are somehow racist, or somehow cause racism—contentions that I and my co-author expressly contest, of course … But if, indeed, bourgeois values are so racist, the progressive critics should be out there in the street demonstrating against them, stripping them from their own lives, and forbidding their children to practice them. They should be chanting, ‘No more work, more crime, more out of wedlock babies, forget thrift, let’s get high!’ … Of course, there’s little chance we’re going to see anything like that, which shows the hollowness, indeed the silliness, of the critiques.”

Larry Alexander’s response was no less powerful and persuasive.

The charges of racism, white supremacy, etc. are, sadly, the predictable responses of those who can’t refute the claims we made … And those charges are laughable, given that I was a civil rights marcher and have a multi-racial family. But, of course, when you don’t have the facts on your side, you resort to calling names. Pathetic!

Perhaps this wisdom backed by courage and conviction will be a turning point where the vicious Progressive campus mob is finally repulsed and discredited.  I certainly hope so, but regardless there are significant lessons here for our discussion of intentions vs. results.

The Implications

Professors Alexander and Wax have transgressed against Progressive theology by daring to point out that intentions the Progressives have defined to be “bad” can lead to good results.  That is, their position violates “facts” 4, 5 and 9 that underpin the intentions based philosophy.

For, to assign higher value to norms that are derived from pre-1960s America is seen by Progressives as an act of racist judgmentalism.  It also violates the “good intentions” associated with multiculturalism, “kindness” and “open-mindedness.”

So, were their argument allowed to stand, the simple-minded Progressive model of only “good intentions” creating “good results” would be disastrously undermined.  Clearly, norms that honor marriage, fidelity, family, work and honesty would be enforced by discouraging the opposites of these virtues.  But, this would be “bad” by Progressive ideology, so to the barricades comrades!

Professor Wax’s response, in which she throws the hypocrisy of the upper middle class Progressives back in their faces is particularly powerful.  For, as is demonstrated by a recent article in the Federalist titled “The Research Proves The No. 1 Social Justice Imperative Is Marriage,” the primary differentiating factor between well off and less well off social groups is an intact, committed family structure.  Screen Shot 2017-11-07 at 6.19.28 AMThe key figure from this source is shown here.  Note that for the Poor a baby arrived prior to marriage at almost five-times the percentage of the Middle / Upper Class.  Also,  the Middle / Upper Class is currently married at more than twice the percentage of the Poor.  Thus, it is very likely that the Middle / Upper Class critics of Professors Wax and Alexander are living their own lives in accordance with bourgeois culture while recommending that the Working Class and Poor not do the same.

Were we to start playing by the Progressive Left’s rules, and, assume the worst about their motives (as opposed to commenting on their public actions and statements) we might say: “That’s certainly a way to limit the pool of competitors for Middle / Upper Class jobs!”  I doubt they would like this treatment even though it’s far gentler than what they are saying.  What they fail to realize is that by virtue of their policy preferences and behavior, they have assumed a level of moral hazard that makes them highly vulnerable to legitimate, powerful criticism.  I’ll have quite a bit more to say about this in the next post.



rsz_conservative_solutions_to_poverty_infographic_teaser

Mainline Christianity and Progressive Politics (7)

Moynihan

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Intentions vs. Results 1965 Case Study: The Moynihan Report

The chasm between intention-motivated vs. results-motivated anti-poverty policies was revealed over 50 years ago.  The instigating event was a 1965 report titled The Negro Family: The Case For National Action, which has become  known as the Moynihan Report.  The author was Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a sociologist serving as Assistant Secretary of Labor under President Lyndon B. Johnson.

This seminal but controversial report was revisited in a 2005 City Journal article titled “The Black Family: 40 Years of Lies.” The tag-line is “Rejecting the Moynihan report caused untold, needless misery.”  A key excerpt follows (emphasis added).

Read through the megazillion words on class, income mobility, and poverty in the recent New York Times series “Class Matters” and you still won’t grasp two of the most basic truths on the subject: 1. entrenched, multigenerational poverty is largely black; and 2. it is intricately intertwined with the collapse of the nuclear family in the inner city.
By now, these facts shouldn’t be hard to grasp. Almost 70 percent of black children are born to single mothers. Those mothers are far more likely than married mothers to be poor, even after a post-welfare-reform decline in child poverty. They are also more likely to pass that poverty on to their children. Sophisticates often try to dodge the implications of this bleak reality by shrugging that single motherhood is an inescapable fact of modern life, affecting everyone from the bobo Murphy Browns to the ghetto “baby mamas.” Not so; it is a largely low-income—and disproportionately black—phenomenon. The vast majority of higher-income women wait to have their children until they are married. The truth is that we are now a two-family nation, separate and unequal—one thriving and intact, and the other struggling, broken, and far too often African-American.
So why does the Times, like so many who rail against inequality, fall silent on the relation between poverty and single-parent families? To answer that question—and to continue the confrontation with facts that Americans still prefer not to mention in polite company—you have to go back exactly 40 years. That was when a resounding cry of outrage echoed throughout Washington and the civil rights movement in reaction to Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s Department of Labor report warning that the ghetto family was in disarray. Entitled “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” the prophetic report prompted civil rights leaders, academics, politicians, and pundits to make a momentous—and, as time has shown, tragically wrong—decision about how to frame the national discussion about poverty.

That “resounding cry of outrage” occurred because Mr. Moynihan dared to challenge the then Progressive party line that it was only “the system” that stood between the black community and full equality in American society.  Let’s return to the City Journal article for a clear explanation.

For white liberals and the black establishment, poverty became a zero-sum game: either you believed, as they did, that there was a defect in the system, or you believed that there was a defect in the individual. It was as if critiquing the family meant that you supported inferior schools, even that you were a racist. Though “The Negro Family” had been a masterpiece of complex analysis that implied that individuals were intricately entwined in a variety of systems—familial, cultural, and economic—it gave birth to a hardened, either/or politics from which the country has barely recovered.

Note that, in 1965, the Progressive party line focused on “the system” as opposed to the current “good intentions.”  However, the utility of these two ideas is similar, that being something over which Progressives imagined they have direct control, and, that can be changed by government power to gain the desired results.  Note also that already the epithet “racist” is being applied to anyone who deviates from the Progressive party line on how best to improve the lot of the minority community.

However, correspondence between the report’s alternate viewpoint and the previous post’s description of the results based philosophy is striking.  For, Moynihan’s perspective of “complex analysis that implied that individuals were intricately entwined in a variety of systems—familial, cultural, and economic” correlates exceeding well with the reality model description of “a large number of inputs with highly variable controllability.”  Also note that culture, family and economy, along with others in a variety of inputs, correlates well with the above description of Moynihan’s philosophy.

Thus, at the very beginning of the “war on poverty,” the Progressive powers that be explicitly rejected the results based philosophy of public policy in favor of one that simplistically and erroneously allowed them to pretend hero-ship for themselves.  This self-serving decision has indeed “caused untold, needless misery.”  However, we shouldn’t expect an acknowledgement of this cruel failure by the intention based Progressive community.

 

Mainline Christianity and Progressive Politics (6)

Defining the Contending Philosophies

In the previous post I introduced the idea of intentions vs. results based philosophies with regard to public policy.  However, in order to make real progress, a far more detailed description of each is required.  The following sections are intended to meet this requirement.

Intentions-Based Philosophy

Given that I’m obviously not a member of this group (e.g., Progressives) , the challenge is to identify a model that adequately covers the known facts.  I do have the advantage of significant Progressive engagement due to my life experiences.  Following is my enumeration of these known facts (priority order is not indicated by the numbering).

  1. The having of “good intentions” is absolutely determinative to the obtaining of “good results.”
  2. An increase in the application of “good intentions” will create a corresponding increase in “good results.”
  3. “Good intentions” must translate into “good actions,” for example:
    • Non-judgment means that there will be no criticism of behavior or attitudes by the intended recipients of public policy
    • Generosity means that there is no limit to the amount of money that will be poured into given social programs, regardless of their results
    • Open-mindedness means that all ideas that are supportive of a leftward policy trajectory are valid, while any idea that questions a leftward policy trajectory can only be motivated by “bad intentions.”
  4. There are no “good intentions” other than those defined and approved by the Progressive political movement, and, they can be changed at any time, for any reason.
  5. The having of “bad intentions” (as defined by the Progressive movement, see above) guarantees the outcome of “bad results.”
  6. There is no such thing as tradeoffs between competing goods.
  7. Any other factors beyond “good intentions” and their associated “good actions” are at best of secondary importance to the obtaining of “good results.”
  8. There are no such things as unintended consequences, good or bad.  That is, all societal consequences are determined by intentional acts.
  9. There is no such thing as “good intentions” leading to “bad results” or vice versa.
  10. The application of government power is by far the most effective means by which to implement policies that are motivated by “good intentions” and thus must lead to “good results.”

Given these facts (obviously they will be disputed by some), I have generated the following model.

Intentions-BasedI won’t belabor the correspondence between the facts and resulting model, which should be obvious to most readers.  However, a few additional comments are in order.

Firstly, note the direct relationship between intentions (with associated actions) and results.  This feature is significant because it explains what, to me at least, has been a mysterious aspect of Progressive behavior.  That being, no matter how catastrophic the failure of their policies, they respond with absolute certitude that the results are the best possible.  Conversely, when confronted with non-Progressive alternatives they respond with the same certitude that these would make the situation worse.

This response makes sense if their model is that only their intentions are “good” and that this leads directly to results that are the best possible.  And, since the alternatives come from people with “bad” intentions, then they can only lead to “bad” results.

Secondly, note that the “good” results for this model are only made possible by the Progressive’s intentions and actions.  Thus, they are the heroes and the recipients are the beneficiaries.

This feature helps me understand their visceral hated of capitalism and love of socialism.  For, in a capitalist system people with “bad” intentions apparently create “good” results.  This possibility is anathema to Progressives.  However, with socialism, only those with “good” intentions (in their utopian fantasy) are allowed to create “good” results (in the same utopian fantasy).  This narcissistic need to be the clearly identified heroes who deliver peace and plenty to the beneficiaries explains how they can continue to demand socialism no matter how many flesh and blood humans die and suffer under its pathetic failures.

Finally, note that, because the government is believed to be the most effective transformer of intentions into results, Progressives live in an absolute need to control the government and use it to deliver their “good” results.

I’m sure that some will criticize this model because it makes Progressives appear to be simple-minded.  My initial response is, have you recently attempted to engage in substantive debate with a Progressive?  Yes, I’m certain that buried within the Progressive movement there are those with a far more sophisticated mental model.  However, they are likely maintaining a very low profile give the current climate.

Results-Based Philosophy

People who focus on results as opposed to intentions tend to develop a radically different view of how the world works.  For, virtually anyone who has had the responsibility to deliver defined results finds themselves is a humbling situation.  That is, although they are held accountable for the defined results, they find that there are a myriad of inputs that are outside of their control but that have powerful impact on the results.  This experience creates two important facts:

  1. The scope and depth of pursued results are carefully limited to those that could credibly be obtained in the world as it actually exists
  2. Efforts to achieve these results incorporate mechanisms intended to address the uncertainties created by the larger set of input variables, many of which are outside of direct control.  Some of these include:
    • Alternatives should the original plan falter (e.g., “Plan B”)
    • Feedback mechanisms that allow information created during the plan’s execution to be captured, analyzed and used to modify the original plan
    • Risk assessment for the plan, in which those uncontrolled input factors are identified and assessed with respect to the plan’s likelihood of success.

Given these considerations, I have generated the following model.

Results-Based-Model
This model differs from the previous in two critical respects.  First, it presumes a large number of inputs with highly variable controllability (from virtually zero to relatively high).  Second, it doesn’t claim to define how these inputs are combined to create the result.  In this it follows the concept of “dispersed knowledge” in economic theory, that being:

the notion that no single agent has information as to all of the factors which influence prices and production throughout the system.

The modification of this definition for purpose of this model might be: “the notion that no single agent has information as to all of the factors which influence the results of a given policy being applied throughout the system.”

It’s not that adherents to this model consider themselves to be incapable of generating results.  Rather, they are far more respectful of the complexity / uncertainty associated with their pursuit and mindful of limitations in the choice of goals.  This fact generally creates an evolutionary as opposed to revolutionary mindset regarding the nature of societal change.  It also creates a conservative bias, that seeks to limit the speed of change so as to allow for information feedback and mid-course correction.

Finally, a fundamental difference is that there are no certain “heroes” in this model.  Yes, people and organizations can create more and less influence on the results, but there is no way to directly trace “good” results back to anyone’s “good” intentions.  But, that’s fine for this model’s adherents if the results are actually good.

Mainline Christianity and Progressive Politics (5)

good-intentionsThe Question of Good Inventions vs. Good Results

Background

What is the proper relationship between intentions and results from the perspective of political policy choices?  I touched on this issue in a previous post, in which the strange behavior of Progressives in response to our failed Welfare State was discussed.

This discussion hasn’t yet included the human and social wreckage wrought by the Welfare State, where entire communities descended into generations of broken families, hopelessness, violence, addiction, and yes, poverty.

One would have thought that our moral betters would have been so appalled by this situation that a massive effort at reformation and renewal would have been pursued.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Rather, the poverty industrial complex has been on a unending campaign to prevent any reform and to expand failed policies to new areas of our society.

If there is doubt about this conclusion, I simply ask when was the last time that Progressives, Christians or otherwise, admitted failure for the current welfare policies and then proposed fundamental reforms?  Yes, they have proposed doubling and tripling down on those same failed policies, but doing more of the same certainly is not fundamental reform.  Moreover, when anyone dares to question the effectiveness of current welfare policies, let alone propose actual reform, they are shouted down as racist, selfish, uncaring and unChristian.

The Chicago Experience

I have lived for the past 34 years in the Chicago suburbs.  Over that time the City of Chicago has been governed exclusively by the Democrat Party, which is home for the Progressive political movement.  As a member of the PC(USA) I have seen how Progressive politics dominates the Presbytery of Chicago and a significant part of the local churches.  And, over that significant time period, I have consistently witnessed the obstructionist Progressive party-line that demands continuance of failed policies.

The results have been catastrophic for the city’s poor.

Murder

Here’s how John Kass has described the city’s murder situation in the Chicago Tribune.

How bad is the bloody violence in Chicago, where more than 700 people have been murdered so far this year and thousands have been shot in the street gang wars?

The gangs keep shooting, the survivors mourn, police morale is down, anti-police sentiment is up and the mayor says some cops have gone fetal.

And the politicians do nothing in the bloody city. Street gang violence in Chicago is as bad, if not worse, than the record-setting death years of the 1990s.

But there is no penalty for Democratic politicians who sit back in the Democratic city and do nothing to compel tougher sentences for gun crimes to keep the most aggressive shooters off the streets.

Some say this a gun issue. But that’s a con job. There are many guns in the suburbs, yet suburbanites aren’t slaughtering each other.

This is a street-gangs-with-guns problem, on the South and West sides of Chicago. And calling it anything else is a distraction to give cover to the politicians.

If there is a downside, it is only for the dead and the maimed and their families.

And there is a downside for police, too. Because if something goes wrong, the cop is the headline.

Yet what of the politicians who do nothing? They really have nothing to lose. And they’re doing just fine.

Another reason for Chicago’s tragic murder situation is utter failure by the authorities to solve these crimes in the first place.  Don’t look away, Chicago Progressive do-gooders, the city that has been under your control for generations has a murder case clearance rate of less than one-third the national average.  Yet, I hear virtually nothing from our Progressive betters about this appalling failure of Chicago’s governing authorities.

Chicago-Clearance-Rates-FINAL

But, as terrible as Chicago is from a total number of murders perspective, it is far from the worst in terms of murder rate.  The following figure shows the worst 2010-2015 murder rate (i.e., murders per capita) numbers for cities with populations greater than 250,000.

murder-rate-cities

And, who has been governing these cities for generations, well, Progressive Democrats!  To begin, note that the City of New Orleans has been governed by Democrats since 1872.  The following image from National Review allows us to see that the other four of the top five murder rate cities have also been continuously run by Progressive Democrats for generations.

NR-Urban-Dem-Dominance

When I hear Progressives address this issue at all, it’s at least 90% about gun control.  Apparently they believe that in minority communities inanimate objects called guns hold a magical power over the inhabitants, causing them to commit murder.  The fact (as explained by John Kass above) that guns lack this magical power in suburban and rural communities gives them not the slightest pause.  For people who tend to shout “racist!” at the slightest deviation from their party line, this looks like a pretty shaky glass house.

Education

Over this same time period Chicago’s public school system has performed disgracefully.  With regard to educational performance, the Illinois Opportunity Project states that:

… of CPS high school students who graduate in four years, less than 20 percent of them will be considered “college ready.”

With regard to financial responsibility the story is just as horrible, as documented by The American Interest.

Chicago’s public school system is on the verge of facing financial insolvency, and it’s not because selfish taxpayers have been starving it of revenue—both the Windy City and the state of Illinois have significantly higher than average tax rates. Much of the school district’s acute fiscal distress can be chalked up to mismanagement, plain and simple—short-sighted decisions by blinkered public officials who chose to mortgage the school system’s future against pension benefits for current retirees. Crain’s Chicago Business reports that CPS is finally drowning under the weight of interest on debt it has accumulated over the last decade …

Once again, Chicago’s utter failure to educate its children is only one specific case of a general situation, as is shown by the following figure.  As reported by the federal government, only 33 percent of public-school eighth graders scored proficient or better in reading in 2015 and only 32 percent scored proficient or better in mathematics.

urban-public-ed-failure-reading-chart

Does this abject failure of public education in our cities, which primarily affects the poor, bother our Progressive betters?  It’s hard to conclude yes after decades of watching them support the status quo with a ferocity that leaves no doubt as to their purpose.

What Really Matters?

These catastrophic failures, despite the incessant insistence on their benevolence by Progressives, Christian or otherwise, forces us to wonder about the relationship between intentions and results.  That is, if someone does things or supports policies because of “good intentions,” is that sufficient in and of itself as an act of charity?  Or, does their moral responsibility extend to the realm of demonstrable results?  These two philosophies lead to very different attitudes towards how best to help the poor, with corresponding differences in practical policies.

Occasional Confirmations (1)

greenAs I’ve blogged about many and sundry topics I, by necessity, have stated opinions and drawn conclusions.  Certainly there have been cases in which I wasn’t correct.  Being a fallen man, I’m far more sensitive to those occasions in which new evidence appears to confirm rather than contradict past ideas.  Three of these confirmations come to mind that rise to the level of sharing.

Jesus Christ as a Progressive Avatar

Early in this blog’s life I focused on the theological issues that appeared to be the primary sources of the PC(USA)’s movement into open apostasy.  One of the primary conclusions of this study was that Progressive Christianity had replaced Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture with one of their own making.  I discussed this idea in a February 2, 2015 blog titled “Jesus Christ Avatar.”  At that time I was using the term “postmodern Christian,” which I have come to consider as a subset of the larger group of Progressive Christians.  My statement of the issue was:

I contend that through the incessant repetition of these misleading statements postmodern Christians have emptied Jesus Christ of who He is and refilled him with who they would like him to be. They have turned him into an avatar whose purpose is to act as an embodiment of their philosophy. He has been turned into “that guy who surely agrees with whatever I decide is good and true” as opposed to the objectively real incarnation of God who said and did specific things that are authoritative in defining our Christian understanding of faith and it’s playing out in our lives.

The fascinating aspect of the associated confirmation experience was that what I had imagined to be a relatively recent development was actually at the very least decades old.  For, in a May 16, 2016 post titled “A Brief Excursion into PCUSA Heresy” I reported on the words of Dr. Van Til in an essay on the Confession of 1967 (emphasis added).

Though we concede that the new creed and its new theology speak highly of both Christ and the Bible, we nevertheless contend that new meanings have been attached to old, familiar words. The whole question, accordingly, is one of reinterpretation. One may take a milk bottle and fill it with a poisonous white liquid and call it milk, but this does not guarantee that the poisonous liquid is milk. It may well be some thing that is highly dangerous to man. …

Though the twentieth-century church has been informed by the new theology that it can have no objective or conceptual knowledge of God and of Christ, this same theology still continues to speak about God and Christ in eloquent terms. But, as we have already noted, these terms have new definitions. The God and the Christ of this contemporary theology have very little in common with the God and the Christ of historic Christianity.  There is good reason to believe that the new theology has virtually manufactured a new Christ, a person who is essentially different from the Savior of the Scriptures.

Is not this text, written fifty years ago, describing Jesus Christ the Avatar, but in more precise and theologically sound terms?  I say yes.

I have no wounded pride that my supposed “insight” was predated by at least fifty years. No, I’m simply thankful that someone of greater wisdom than myself was able to see where the PC(USA) was heading.  You might rather say that I confirmed Dr. Van Til’s brilliant foresight.  I’m certain that, were he still with us, this would be a matter of sorrow as opposed to pride.

 

Progressive Christianity’s Strange Bonhoeffer Compulsion (2)

bonhoeffer-hitlerWhy it Exists

In the previous post I discussed the strangeness of Progressive Christianity’s embrace of Bonhoeffer given the unbridgeable theological and political chasm between them and him.  The question remains as to why they are compelled to do so.

Although there are numerous aspects to the answer, the most consequential is this:

Many Christian Progressives have convinced themselves that the easiest and surest means of achieving moral superiority (with its associated political power) is to demonstrate disdain, even hatred, for their own country.

That is, by claiming moral convictions of such purity, such unassailable certitude, such uniqueness and so divorced from normal national connectedness, they are compelled to despise their own country because of its crimes against humanity.  Just like did that moral giant and Christian martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Perhaps these moral paragons of perfection will listen to one of their own with regard to the error of their ways.  Here’s what Henry Sloane Coffin had to say about their mindset in a 1942 (note the same time period as Bonhoeffer) article titled “The Continuing Pacifist Menace: How Pacifists Do Harm.”

Their type of mind is Utopian. They will have the kingdom of Heaven or nothing. That kingdom cannot be established by human effort alone nor will it be achieved in any historic situation. We can only expect and work for some approximation to the divine ideal—the best we can contrive under the circumstances. But absolutists abhor these relative goods, with their admixture of evil. And when men refuse to work with the best they can get under given conditions they force something far worse on mankind.

Living as they actually do in a liberal democratic republic, this moral pose actually costs them almost nothing while reaping unearned moral credit.  This attitude is different than the “cheap grace” opposed by Bonhoeffer in his life.  No, this is a far step beyond, into what I have come to think of as “cheap Bonhoeffer-ism.”  They do indeed “force something far worse on mankind” by their thought and action.

Statue of Dietrich Bonhoeffer above the west entrance of WestminAs we saw in the previous post, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was what would be today called a theological and political conservative.  He thus had not the slightest intention or desire to hate his own country, Germany.  However, this gentle, brilliant Christian man yet found himself enmeshed within the vile evil associated with Nazism’s rise to power during the 1930s, and its genocidal use of that power in the 1940s.  Due only to these extraordinary circumstances, Bonhoeffer was forced by his Christian convictions to actively work against the Nazi state.

Had the Weimar Republic (the German state between 1919 and 1933) evolved in a non-totalitarian direction, it is virtually impossible to imagine that Bonhoeffer would have even approached traitorous resistance.  Yes, he would certainly have been an active and effective critic of the shortcomings of such a regime.  However, his motivations would have been patriotic and beneficent towards his native country.

Progressive Christianity has twisted this extraordinary man and situation into standard operating procedure for themselves and their politics.  That is, whereas Dietrich Bonhoeffer was forced into active disloyalty towards a totalitarian and genocidal regime, Progressive Christianity applies this situation to the normal political disagreements within the liberal democratic republic of the United States.

Thus, whenever a non-Progressive (usually a Republican) dares to oppose their policies, or worse yet, to win an election, some of them (repeatedly) convince themselves that it is the rise of yet another Hitler.  In their minds there is no legitimacy for or loyalty to a nation that again and again elects the equivalent of Hitler to power.  Thus they literally see themselves as in a similar situation to Dietrich Bonhoeffer!

Some readers may balk at accepting this claim.  However, I make it after having personally experienced this progressive “Hitler-mania” on far too many occasions.

bushitler1For example, recall the “Bushitler” craze during the George W. Bush presidency.  In a class supposedly about Dietrich Bonhoeffer I was forced to listen to Progressive Christians earnestly discussing if George W. Bush was the new Hitler.  After two wasted class periods I spoke up, explaining my disbelief that such a ridiculous fantasy had consumed so much time.  I also pointed out the absurdity of this comparison given the conditions existing in Nazi Germany as opposed to the United States (e.g., Barack Obama was likely to be elected the next President).

Their response shocked and appalled me.  That is, they were utterly silent.  Here were people who for two entire periods had presumed to lecture those of us evil and/or stupid enough to have voted for the next Hitler being reduced to shocked silence simply by the voicing of an opposing view.  What happened to their massive, unimpeachable evidence for this horror?  It simply evaporated.  And yet, there was not the slightest recognition that they had been both wrong and cruel.  In point of fact, when George W. Bush quietly retired as Barack Obama’s presidency began, not a single one of these people admitted their error or apologized for their cruelty.

link-bubble-pops
I recognize in this situation a real-world example of the “Progressive bubble-dom” metaphor.  For here we have almost nothing besides air on the inside, reality on the outside, and only an easily demolished membrane separating these real and unreal worlds.

The point is that, by assuming political opponents to be the equivalent of Hitler, some Progressive Christians maintain the absurd fantasy that they are “little Bonhoeffers” who justly despise the nation of their birth.  Thus, in the face of such supposed reoccurring evil, they bear no loyalty to the nation, and, they are freed to conduct themselves using any means necessary to destroy that same supposed evil.  The consequences of this bizarre derangement are becoming clearer with each passing day.

Progressive Christianity’s Strange Bonhoeffer Compulsion (1)

Why it is Strange

I’m drawn back to the Wall Street Journal oped, “Why Not a Day of Rest From Politics?”.  For, one comment there by Libby Sternberg intersects exactly with a key attribute of the Progressive bubble within which some influential Mainline Christians live.  Here’s the quote:

Many of today’s clerical approaches to public policy seem inspired by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the anti-Nazi Lutheran pastor.

On first thought there’s nothing remarkable about this affinity.  For, who among us doesn’t find those who rose to the challenge of upholding goodness in particularly extreme, dangerous occasions to be figures of inspiration?  However, beyond this point we depart into what can only be described as a bizarre, emotionally unstable fantasy world that can be reasonably encompassed within the concept of extreme bubble-dom.

I must firstly make the obvious but too often ignored point that Dietrich Bonhoeffer is not a natural hero for Progressive Christians.  In fact, even the most cursory study of this great man’s life and thought reveals that he was a vocal, and sometimes outraged opponent of Progressive Christianity.

In the years 1930-31, Bonhoeffer visited the United States to pursue postgraduate study and a teaching fellowship at New York City’s Union Theological Seminary, an independent, nondenominational, Christian seminary (founded in 1836 by members of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.) located in New York City.  Union has long been a bastion of progressive Christian scholarship, which it certainly was in 1930.

Bonhoeffer was shocked and dismayed by what he found at Union.  Although there are numerous extended Bonhoeffer quotations in “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” (by Eric Metals) from which to choose, the one that most clearly and succinctly captures his thought follows:

“[The Union students] talk a blue streak without the slightest substantive foundation and with no evidence of any criteria . . . They are unfamiliar with even the most basic questions. They become intoxicated with liberal and humanistic phrases, laugh at the fundamentalists, and yet basically are not even up to their level. In New York they preach about virtually everything; only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life.”

Can there be any doubt that, almost 90 years later, Bonhoeffer would find Progressive Christianity to be massively worse theologically and far more intellectually barren than it was then?  Were he to read the PCUSA Presbytery Rationale record on same-gender marriage, or, how the PCUSA has become a comfortable home for atheists and heretics, he certainly would be shaken to his very core.

Well, perhaps even though Bonhoeffer was a theological foe, he was a political friend?  That is, his politics were extremely left-wing, even overtly Marxist, and, he was deeply distrustful of both his nation (Germany) and it’s political status quo.  Sorry, but this is also utterly false.  Returning to the above biography, note the following quotes regarding Bonhoeffer’s political positioning during the Weimar Republic (the German state between 1919 and 1933).  The first quote concerns Bonhoeffer’s joining of the Igel fraternity in the 1920s.

“But they were generally patriotic, so the national pride that characterized the Igels was not unappealing. Karl Bonhoeffer always recalled his time there favorably, but disapproved of the peer pressure to drink. Most Igel members in his day had middle-of-the-road political convictions, being champions of the kaiser and of the policies of Bismarck.”

In fact, Bonhoeffer also willingly participated in military training (although some time later he considered himself for awhile to be a pacifist).

Such political turmoil called for a level of military readiness that the Allies were unwilling to grant, so the Germans invented ways around it to avoid the interference of the Allied Control Commission. One was for university students to receive covert training during the semesters. These troops were referred to as the Black Reichswehr. In November 1923 it was Dietrich’s turn. His training would take two weeks and would be overseen by the Ulm Rifles Troop in Ulm, not far from Tübingen. Many of his Igel brethren would join him, and all of the other fraternities participated. Bonhoeffer felt no great hesitation, seeing it as a part of his most basic patriotic duty.

So, if Dietrich Bonhoeffer was an opponent of Progressive Christianity’s theology and politics, then what strange compulsion motivates current members of this group to so powerfully identify themselves with him?  It is to that question we will turn next.

Christ and Cornelius (10)

800px-Jesús_y_el_centurión_(El_Veronés)Closing Thoughts (2)

The story of Cornelius’ salvation by Christ is of signal import because of its being the first Gentile conversion that was affirmed by the Church.  However, within the examination of Christian pacifism its meaning becomes all the more profound.  For, when God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, chose whom that first Gentile convert would be, it was a Roman soldier, a centurion.

Perhaps some could be persuaded to “pass by” this telling detail, were it an isolated case.  But, it most certainly is not.  In fact, this event is actually the third part of a Scriptural trilogy that leaves no reasonable doubt as to God’s teaching.

In “Part 1” we find John the Baptist proclaiming Christ’s coming and therefore calling all to repentance through baptism.  And, who should respond to his message but a group of soldiers.

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

Luke 3:14

Note that when the soldiers ask John what they must now do, he completely ignores their roles as war-fighters. This is a passing strange omission for the anointed Prophet who is preparing the way for Christ’s mission, particularly so if pacifism were to be a central principle of that mission.

In “Part 2,” Jesus Christ has arrived and is actively preaching the Gospel.  He is sought out by none other than a Roman centurion who’s servant is gravely ill.   As a consequence of this encounter Christ lifts up this man’s demonstration of faith, placing it far above that which He has seen in the nation of Israel.

When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  

Matthew 8:10,11

I simply point out that Jesus responds to the centurion’s faith without making so much as the smallest comment on his occupation.  Were Jesus intent on turning humankind away from any form of violence, it would be passing strange that Jesus did not add instruction about future conduct to His praise of the centurion’s faith.

Now in “Part 3,” the trilogies’ capstone, we find that God has also chosen a Roman centurion to be the vessel through whom His Church will welcome the Gentiles into Christianity!  And, within this world-shattering event, is this man’s occupation as a Roman soldier raised as a barrier to entry?  Not in the slightest!

No, the barrier to be overcome is that of the ceremonial Jewish law that demands separation from the Gentiles.  This issue, which applies to fellowship with any Gentile, be they soldier or not, is the only one raised and addressed!

We should have discovered an absolutely clear pattern by now. Soldiers were (and are) welcome in the Church without having to give up their profession. This is not to say that their Christian faith won’t have a powerful impact on their conduct. But, with all of these opportunities to send the message that their position as war-fighters was incompatible with the Christian faith passed up by John the Baptist, Christ Himself  and now the Apostle Peter, it is virtually impossible to conclude that this was their intention.

And finally note that this unmistakable trilogy is in addition to all the other clear Biblical evidence against pacifism.  Thus, I must conclude that the pacifist position cannot survive a complete, careful Scriptural study.

I understand that pacifism has a long and substantial place in Christian thought. However, clearly this is a consequence of powerful personal feelings being overlaid on Scripture’s teaching to create a false belief.  I am not here denouncing Christian pacifists.  For, who among us fallen, frail humans is uniformly immune from failure of this nature?  Certainly not me.  However, we should hope that all Christians, if provided compelling evidence of erroneous belief through Scripture’s  teaching would submit to Scripture.

Just because we can’t travel all the way with Christian pacifists doesn’t mean that we should ignore their counsel. Quite the opposite, their deeply held belief in peace compels the rest of us to more carefully test our own conclusions with regard to the use of force. However, in the extremity of danger, neither can their erroneous position force us to stand idly by while terrible evil is done (or is about to be done). Perhaps we can end this phase of the discussion with these words from Proverbs.

A wise man has great power, and a man of knowledge increases strength; for waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisers.

Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.  If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?

Proverbs 24:5,6; 11,12

Amen.