History as a study in irony

Michael Dirda reviews a new book by the distinguished British historian J. H. Elliott, History in the Making, which reflects on how historians exercise their vocations and the lessons of history for our own times.  Here are some quotations from the book, as put together in the review:

“If the study of the past has any value, that value lies in its ability to reveal the complexities of human experience, and to counsel against ruling out as of no significance any of the paths that were only partially followed, or not followed at all.”

Today, it is apparent that “the nation state, while remaining the standard form of political organization, has been under growing pressure both from above and from below. . . . From above, it has been compelled to yield ground to international and supranational bodies, of which the European Community is a prime example. From below, it has come under pressure from the suppressed nationalities, and from religious and ethnicities demanding their own place in the sun. As a result, what once seemed certain has become less certain, and structures that once had about them an air of permanence are showing signs of frailty.”

Certainly, contemporary history has shown us, with a vengeance, that “the stronger the emphasis on secularization, the greater are the chances of religious revival. The advance of science finds its antithesis in the advance of fundamentalism, and the supranationalism of a world of multinational corporations and organizations finds itself challenged by the upsurge of the irrational forces of old-style nationalism.”

Thus, as Dirda concludes, “The study of history is a study in irony.”

The more secularism the more religious revival.  It would follow that conservatism is not dead, any more than liberalism was a few years ago, that ideologies ebb and flow and take their turn.  I suspect the same is true of moral codes.  The sexual revolution will probably spur a counter-revolution.  Then again, world wars, totalitarianism, fascism, and communism will probably come back too.

via A historian’s Spanish lessons for modern America – The Washington Post.

 

A president’s prayer

Uganda has long been one of the most messed-up countries on earth, ruled by murderous buffoons such as Idi Amin.  But the current president, Yoweri Museveni, is trying to change all of that.  On the 50th anniversary of Uganda’s independence from Great Britain, he publicly prayed this prayer:

Father God in heaven, today we stand here as Ugandans, to thank you for Uganda. We are proud that we are Ugandans and Africans. We thank you for all your goodness to us. I stand here today to close the evil past and especially in the last 50 years of our national leadership history and at the threshold of a new dispensation in the life of this nation. I stand here on my own behalf and on behalf of my predecessors to repent. We ask for your forgiveness. We confess these sins, which have greatly hampered our national cohesion and delayed our political, social and economic transformation.

We confess sins of idolatry and witchcraft which are rampant in our land. We confess sins of shedding innocent blood, sins of political hypocrisy, dishonesty, intrigue and betrayal. Forgive us of sins of pride, tribalism and sectarianism; sins of laziness, indifference and irresponsibility; sins of corruption and bribery that have eroded our national resources; sins of sexual immorality, drunkenness and debauchery; sins of unforgiveness, bitterness, hatred and revenge; sins of injustice, oppression and exploitation; sins of rebellion, insubordination, strife and conflict. These sins and many others have characterized our past leadership, especially the last 50 years of our history. Lord, forgive us and give us a new beginning. Give us a heart to love you, to fear you and to seek you. Take away from us all the above sins.

We pray for national unity. Unite us as Ugandans and eliminate all forms of conflict, sectarianism and tribalism. Help us to see that we are all your children, children of the same Father. Help us to love and respect one another and to appreciate unity in diversity. We pray for prosperity and transformation. Deliver us from ignorance, poverty and disease. As leaders, give us wisdom to help lead our people into political, social and economic transformation.

We want to dedicate this nation to you so that you will be our God and guide. We want Uganda to be known as a nation that fears God and as a nation whose foundations are firmly rooted in righteousness and justice to fulfill what the Bible says in Psalm 33:12: Blessed is the nation, whose God is the Lord. A people you have chosen as your own.

I renounce all the evil foundations and covenants that were laid in idolatry and witchcraft. I renounce all the satanic influence on this nation. And I hereby covenant Uganda to you, to walk in your ways and experience all your blessings forever. I pray for all these in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

via Michael Avramovich, Should Ugandan President Museveni Lead the Way? – Mere Comments.

Does this suggest theocracy or at least a “state church”?  Or is it a good example of a leader praying for himself and interceding for his people?

“Thank you for your service”

Happy Veteran’s Day.  And to all of you veterans, let us join in saying what has become a common refrain: “Thank you for your service.” Notice how the military’s emphasis on service ties right in to the doctrine of vocation.

Here is a fine meditation for the day by my sometimes-colleague Joe Carter:  What a Veteran Knows | What So Proudly We Hail.

Vocation as sacramental

A paragraph from a piece by Peter Berger, via Anthony Sacramone:

The Lutheran understanding of the Eucharist implies a view of creation itself being a sacrament. All of nature, the world as perceived in ordinary experience and in empirical science, is sacramental—in the words of the Book of Common Prayer, displays “outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace.” In one of my earlier ventures into unauthorized theologizing, I adumbrated this proposition by the phrase “signals of transcendence”: God, as it were, hides in the universe, but here and there we can find signs of his presence. In their understanding of the Eucharist, Lutherans used the phrase finitum capax infiniti—“the finite can contain the infinite.” The finite, perishable elements of bread and wine can, invisibly, contain the infinite, eternal presence of the risen Christ. But so can the finite, perishable reality of the empirical universe. George Forell, one of the best American interpreters of the Reformation, opined that the phrase finitum capax infiniti expressed the very core of Lutheran faith.

via Luther vs. the Proto-Pentecostals « Strange Herring.

I would just observe that the Lutheran doctrine of vocation is also sacramental in this sense.  Not a sacrament, I hasten to add, but an example of how God works through and by means of the physical world.  Vocation, according to Luther, is all about how God works through human beings (giving daily bread by means of farmers and bakers, creating and caring for new life through parents, protecting us through lawful magistrates, granting healing by means of the medical professions, teaching through teachers, expressing beauty by meaning by means of artists, proclaiming His Word and administering His sacraments by means of pastors, etc., etc.).  other gifts

Is the purpose of work leisure?

The New York Times published an online column arguing that the purpose of work is leisure.  (We work for the sake of the weekend; we have a career so we can retire; we try to amass wealth so we can stop working.)  That is also the view of Aristotle (we need to leisure to fully exercise our intellects) and of medieval Catholicism (the contemplative life is more spiritual than the active life).  Luther’s doctrine of vocation, by contrast, challenged this view, teaching that the purpose of work in all vocations is to love and serve one’s neighbor.

The folks at the Gospel Coalition blog asked me to pen an answer to the New York Times piece, which was by Notre Dame philosopher Gary Gutting.  I did.  Go here to read my response, which includes a link to Prof. Gutting’s essay:

The Purpose of Work – The Gospel Coalition Blog.

 

Voting and the neighbor

Todd Wilkens, host of Issues, Etc., has a provocative post on voting like a Christian.  He is applying to this work of the calling of citizenship what Luther taught is the purpose of all vocations:  To love and serve one’s neighbor.

Why does a Christian vote? A Christian doesn’t vote for the same reason the unbeliever votes.

A Christian doesn’t vote because it’s his right. That’s why the unbeliever votes. For the Christian, his own rights have nothing to do with it.

A Christian doesn’t vote to get his way. That’s also why the unbeliever votes. For the Christian, getting his way has nothing to do with it.

A Christian doesn’t vote to protect his own interests. For the Christian, his own interests have nothing to do with it.

A Christian votes to serve his neighbor —-period.

A Christian votes because he is called to do so by the needs of his neighbor. This means that a Christian will sometimes vote against his own rights, his own way and his own self-interest; but always in favor of his neighbor and his needs. At the ballot box, the neighbor comes first.

On election day, don’t vote like an unbeliever. Make you vote count …for your neighbor.

via Steadfast Lutherans » Why Vote?.

So what difference would this neighbor-centered ethic make?  Which, in your opinion, would be a better neighbor-centered vote, for Obama or for Romney?  Is there only one answer, or might vocation lead different people to different decisions?  If the latter, does that mean that God calls people to contrary actions?  How can that be?