Harvard’s Cherokee professor

George Will sums up how Elizabeth Warren and her Ivy League universities played the diversity game:

Blond, blue-eyed Elizabeth Warren, the Senate candidate in Massachusetts and Harvard professor who cites “family lore” that she is 1/32nd Cherokee, was inducted into Oklahoma’s Hall of Fame last year. Her biography on OklahomaHeritage.com says that she “can track both sides of her family in Oklahoma long before statehood” (1907) and “she proudly tells everyone she encounters that she is ‘an Okie to my toes.’ ” It does not mention any Cherokee great-great-great-grandmother. A DVD of the induction ceremony shows that neither Warren nor anyone else mentioned this.

The kerfuffle that has earned Warren such sobriquets as “Spouting Bull” and “Fauxcahontas” began with reports that Harvard Law School, in routine academic preening about diversity (in everything but thought), listed her as a minority faculty member, as did the University of Pennsylvania when she taught there. She said that some in her family had “high cheekbones like all of the Indians do.” The New England Historic Genealogical Society said that a document confirmed the family lore of Warren’s Cherokee ancestry, but it later backtracked. She has said that she did not know Harvard was listing her as a minority in the 1990s, but Harvard was echoing her: From 1986 through 1995, starting before she came to Harvard, a directory published by the Association of American Law Schools listed her as a minority and says its listings are based on professors claiming minority status.

So, although no evidence has been found that Warren is part Indian, for years two universities listed her as such. She has identified herself as a minority, as when, signing her name “Elizabeth Warren — Cherokee,” she submitted a crab recipe (Oklahoma crabs?) to a supposedly Indian cookbook. This is a political problem.

A poll taken before this controversy found her Republican opponent Scott Brown trouncing her on “likability,” 57 percent to 23 percent. Even Democrats broke for Brown 40 to 38. Now she is a comic figure associated with laughable racial preferences. She who wants Wall Street “held accountable” is accountable for two elite law schools advertising her minority status. She who accuses Wall Street of gaming the financial system at least collaborated with, and perhaps benefited from, the often absurd obsession with “diversity.”

How absurd? Warren says that for almost a decade she listed herself in the AALS directory as a Native American because she hoped to “meet others like me.” This well-educated, highly paid, much-honored (she was a consumer protection adviser to President Obama) member of America’s upper 1 percent went looking for people “who are like I am” among Native Americans?

This makes perfect sense to a liberal subscriber to the central superstition of the diversity industry, which is the premise of identity politics: Personhood is distilled not to the content of character but only to race, ethnicity, gender or sexual preference.

This controversy has discombobulated liberalism’s crusade to restore Democratic possession of the Senate seat the party won in 1952 with John Kennedy and held until 2010, when Brown captured it after Ted Kennedy’s death. Lofty thinkers and exasperated liberals consider the focus on Warren’s fanciful ancestry a distraction from serious stuff. (Such as The Post’s nearly 5,500-word wallow in teenage Mitt Romney’s prep school comportment?) But Warren’s adult dabbling in identity politics is pertinent because it is, in all its silliness, applied liberalism.

via Elizabeth Warren’s identity politics – The Washington Post.

As an Oklahoman and an academic, I have something to say on the matter.  First, in Oklahoma, home of the Five “civilized”–that is, fully assimilated to white culture–there are lots of blonde blue-eyed “Indians.”  When white people moved into Indian Territory, they could marry into the tribes.  After the civil war, the freed slaves of the tribes from the South were also entered into tribal rolls, so there are also lots of black Indians.  It only takes 1/32 Indian heritage to get listed.

It’s also true that quite a few Oklahomans have gamed the system designed for unassimilated tribes on reservations.  I once taught at a school in Oklahoma that took a survey of racial identity to qualify for federal benefits to institutions that served minority populations.  Our school cashed in because of all of the red-haired Cherokees, even though we had few black people or other minorities.  Then there are the things you can do on “Indian lands,” such as running casinos, selling tax-free cigarettes, getting free health care, and other benefits.  (I hasten to say that there are also “real Indians” in Oklahoma with various levels of poverty and other problems.  I’m just saying that some who don’t need these programs have taken advantage of them at the expense of those who do.)

It’s also true that academics got on the diversity bandwagon, especially a few years ago, and that the claim to be a “minority” was a priceless commodity.  This encouraged bogus claims.

Prof. Warren might have qualified to get into a tribe, if she could prove even that small amount of Indian blood she is claiming, but she never shows up on the Cherokee tribal rolls, so her claim is bogus by any standards.  And it’s just embarrassing to see how the Ivy League institutions, supposedly so enlightened, were hyping Prof. Warren as a demonstration of their diversity, as if she were a member of an oppressed people-group.

Unless Okies are members of an oppressed people group.  One could make that case.  If so, I claim my identity and demand justice!

A nation of heretics

Ross Douthat begins with reflections on three recent cases in American religion:  the popularity of prosperity-gospeller Joel Osteen; President Obama’s statement that the reason he now favors gay marriage is because he follows Jesus; and new statistics that find that non-denominational Christianity is now the third largest category, behind Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists.  He then draws this conclusion and applications:

For decades, the cultural tug-of-war between the Christian right and the secular left has encouraged people to envision the American religious future in binary terms –as either godless or orthodox, either straightforwardly secular or traditionally Christian. But these examples and trends suggest a more complicated reality, in which religious institutions have declined but religion itself has not, and Americans increasingly redefine Christianity as they see fit rather than than abandoning it entirely.

We aren’t a nation of rigorous Richard Dawkins-style atheists and equally rigorous Pope Benedict XVI-style Catholics, in other words. Instead, we’re a nation of Osteens and Obamas, Dan Browns and Deepak Chopras –neither a Christian nation nor a secular society, but a nation of heretics.

To many Americans, this description no doubt sounds like a compliment. Because we’ve always been a nation from of religious freethinkers and entrepreneurs –from Thomas Jefferson and Ralph Waldo Emerson to Joseph Smith and Mary Baker Eddy –the word “heretic” often carries positive connotations in our religious culture. It’s associated with theological daring, spiritual experimentation, and a willingness to blaze new trails and push on toward new horizons.

But the heretical imperative in America’s religious life has usually existed in a kind of fruitful and creative tension with more conservative, institutional, and historically-rooted forms of faith –first denominational Protestantism and then later the Roman Catholic Church as well. And the post-1960s decline of these churches has taken a significant toll on our common life, in ways that both religious and secular observers should be able to recognize.

For one thing, individualistic and do-it-yourself forms of religion are less likely to bind communities together, encourage stable families, assimilate immigrants, and otherwise Americans to live in healthy fellowship with one another. It is not a coincidence that as the institutional churches have lost their purchase among poor and non-college educated Americans, that population’s social ills have multiplied and its economic prospects have dimmed.

At the same time, self-created forms of faith are also less likely to provide a check against the self’s worst impulses –whether it’s the kind of materialism that Joel Osteen’s sunny promises encourage, or the solipsism that percolates under the surface of popular spiritual memoirs like Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat Pray Love.” Many of America’s contemporary crises, from the housing bubble and the financial crash to the collapse of the two-parent family, can be traced to just this tendency — encouraged by too much contemporary religion — to make the self’s ambitions the measure of all things.

Finally, when strong religious impulses coexist with weak religious institutions, people become more likely to channel religious energy into partisan politics instead, and to freight partisan causes with more metaphysical significance than they can bear. The result, visible both in the “hope and change” fantasies of Obama’s 2008 campaign and the right-wing backlash it summoned up, is a politics that gives free rein to both utopian and apocalyptic delusions, and that encourages polarization without end.

via ‘A nation of Osteens and Obamas’ – Guest Voices – The Washington Post.

The rainbow-colored halo

President Clinton was hailed by the liberal media as “the first black president”–on the basis of his soulfulness, sexual appetites, and other racist stereotypes–even though there would be an actual black president a few years later.  Now Newsweek is hailing President Obama as “the first gay president” with a cover story by Andrew Sullivan about alleged affinities between being biracial and being gay.  (Never mind that gays had been disillusioned with the president for not doing anything for them until his recent announcement that he support gay marriage.)

I think this is ridiculous journalism and unfair to President Obama.  What gets me, though, is the cover.  In an extreme version of media hagiography, both of Obama and of gays, the president is adorned with a halo.  A rainbow-colored halo.

Andrew Sullivan on Barack Obama’s Gay Marriage Evolution – The Daily Beast.

We have recently discussed homosexuality and gay marriage, to the point of exhaustion, so let’s not talk about those subjects as such.  Let’s talk about the halo.

In what has to be one of the  most dramatic turnarounds in moral and cultural history, gays have acquired the status of sainthood, while those who oppose homosexuality have acquired the status of evil villain.  Homosexuality used to be considered a mental illness; now homophobia is considered the mental illness.  Gay sex used to be considered a vice; now it is assuming the status of a virtue, while disapproving of gay sex is considered a vice.  Conservative Christians have liked to think of themselves as “good” (despite their own theology); but now they (or we) are demonized.  Gays, though, wear a halo.  Not that everyone believes this, but this is the projection of both the elite and the popular cultures, whose influence is permeating everywhere.

How do you account for this turn-around?  How did it happen?  Why? Are there lessons that Christians can learn from this before the persecutions begin in earnest?  And, to play the Newsweek game, might Christians someday become the “new gays”?

What grates about the GSA scandal

More from that brilliant column by Peggy Noonan, America’s Crisis of Character:

There is the General Services Administration scandal. An agency devoted to efficiency is outed as an agency of mindless bread-and-circuses indulgence. They had a four-day regional conference in Las Vegas, with clowns and mind readers.

The reason the story is news, and actually upsetting, is not that a government agency wasted money. That is not news. The reason it’s news is that the people involved thought what they were doing was funny, and appropriate. In the past, bureaucratic misuse of taxpayer money was quiet. You needed investigators to find it, trace it, expose it. Now it’s a big public joke. They held an awards show. They sang songs about the perks of a government job: “Brand new computer and underground parking and a corner office. . . . Love to the taxpayer. . . . I’ll never be under OIG investigation.” At the show, the singer was made Commissioner for a Day. “The hotel would like to talk to you about paying for the party that was held in the commissioner’s suite last night” the emcee said. It got a big laugh.

On the “red carpet” leading into the event, GSA chief Jeffrey Neely said: “I am wearing an Armani.” One worker said, “I have a talent for drinking Margarita. . . . It all began with the introduction of performance measures.” That got a big laugh too.

All the workers looked affluent, satisfied. Only a generation ago, earnest, tidy government bureaucrats were spoofed as drudges and drones. Not anymore. Now they’re way cool. Immature, selfish and vain, but way cool.

Their leaders didn’t even pretend to have a sense of mission and responsibility. They reminded me of the story a year ago of the dizzy captain of a U.S. Navy ship who made off-color videos and played them for his crew. He wasn’t interested in the burdens of leadership—the need to be the adult, the uncool one, the one who maintains standards. No one at GSA seemed interested in playing the part of the grown-up, either.

Why? Why did they think this is OK? They seemed mildly decadent. Or proudly decadent. In contrast to you, low, toiling taxpayer that you are, poor drudges and drones.

via America’s Crisis of Character – WSJ.com.

HT:  Doug Reynolds

Lutheran Anglicans

I met an Anglican priest the other day who, it turns out, was a big fan of Spirituality of the Cross and my other “Lutheran” books.  As I talked with him, I was astonished at how much he was into Lutheranism.  He explained that there is currently a strain in Anglicanism that is seeking to recover its Lutheran roots.

He said Anglicanism generally has had four theological strains:  (1) The mainline Protestantism of the Episcopal Church in America; (2) Anglo-Catholicism; (3) low church evangelicalism, which is often distinctly Reformed; (4) the charismatic movement.

But now, he says, a number of  Anglicans, especially young theologians, are rediscovering Luther, who was a major influence on the founders of Anglicanism, especially Thomas Cranmer.   They are finding that it is possible to be both sacramental and evangelical, liturgical and Biblical.  Above all, they are discovering that the Gospel as Luther understood it–radical, liberating–speaks powerfully to our own times and to the specific struggles of both Christians and non-Christians today.

The main force in this movement of Lutheran Anglicans or Anglican Lutherans is the Mockingbird Ministry, run by David Zahl and friends, whose main presence is the blog known as Mockingbird.  (Read the FAQ for why it’s called that.)  I have been reading and linking to it without realizing its role in a movement.  It’s a brilliant website, in both design and content.  Much of it is taken up with commentary on music, film, literature, and the culture as a whole.  But it’s also full of discussions of the distinction between Law & Gospel and the Theology of the Cross vs. the Theology of Glory.

It draws on ELCA theologians who are still Lutheran, such as Stephen Paulson and Gerhard Forde (who inspires a regular feature called “Forde Friday”), but also Missouri Synod stalwarts such as C. F. W. Walther and Rod Rosenbladt (who is called “our hero” and a formative influence).

And the design and tone are very cool and cutting-edged, not stodgy but young, sophisticated, even avant garde.

I’m not saying it’s all completely on target or could in every instance pass Missouri Synod doctrinal review–a recent post quotes Rudolph Bultmann, though one in which the liberal theologian sounds Lutheran–but it’s a good site to visit.

And it’s a challenge to us Lutheran Lutherans to remind us that, even as some of our own churches play it down, outsiders are finding our theology compelling.

 

The actual crisis in America

Peggy Noonan cuts to the heart:

People in politics talk about the right track/wrong track numbers as an indicator of public mood. This week Gallup had a poll showing only 24% of Americans feel we’re on the right track as a nation. That’s a historic low. Political professionals tend, understandably, to think it’s all about the economy—unemployment, foreclosures, we’re going in the wrong direction. I’ve long thought that public dissatisfaction is about more than the economy, that it’s also about our culture, or rather the flat, brute, highly sexualized thing we call our culture.

Now I’d go a step beyond that. I think more and more people are worried about the American character—who we are and what kind of adults we are raising.

Every story that has broken through the past few weeks has been about who we are as a people. And they are all disturbing.

She then runs down the list:  The GSA scandal, the Secret Service scandal, the soldiers posing with body parts scandal, the YouTubes of the tourist getting beaten in Baltimore while passersby laugh and the woman crying as she’s being felt up by the TSA.

In isolation, these stories may sound like the usual sins and scandals, but in the aggregate they seem like something more disturbing, more laden with implication, don’t they? And again, these are only from the past week.

The leveling or deterioration of public behavior has got to be worrying people who have enough years on them to judge with some perspective.

Something seems to be going terribly wrong.

via America’s Crisis of Character – WSJ.com.

Could it be cultural breakdown, a state in which there is no longer a sense of community that exerts any kind of social pressure to do what is right?

What do you think?  And is there any way to restore a sense of civilization and character?  (Politics will clearly not do that, since it provides so many more examples of this crisis of character.)

HT:  Doug Reynolds


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