Peace or Truth?

Michael Hannon uses a Luther quotation to get at the essential difference between liberalism and conservatism.  (And he concludes that Luther is right.)

“Peace if possible, truth at all costs!” Thus heralded Martin Luther half a millennium ago, and let no man accuse him of failing to practice what he preached. Of course, whether or not a Christian agrees with Luther’s particular interpretation of truth will determine whether he is a Catholic or a Protestant. But less obviously and perhaps more interestingly, whether or not a modern American agrees with Luther’s principle—that despite the very real goodness of peace, truth trumps it each and every time—will in large part determine whether he is a conservative or a liberal.

It’s no secret that these two contemporary political labels are problematic. Unfortunately, ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ are too often associated with just two distinct sets of seemingly randomly connected positions on the hot-button issues of our day. But perhaps the two contemporary camps identified by these labels of ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ are not as random as they seem. And perhaps Luther has presented the key for understanding their primary difference.

The question is this: Why does the pro-life camp typically align with the anti-“same-sex marriage” camp? Why are those in favor of the death penalty so often the most outspoken critics of euthanasia and assisted suicide? The answer cannot simply be partisan loyalty, for a large number of critically reflective persons today would just as soon have no affiliation with any political party.

There indeed is something deeper linking these various positions together: while the conservative agrees with Luther and recognizes truth as a higher good than peace, the liberal would again and again subordinate truth to peace for the sake of maintaining societal harmony.

Hannon goes on to apply this distinction to positions on gay marriage, abortion, and other issues.  He then analyzes the two concepts, concluding that truth has to be prior to peace, logically and in practice (otherwise, you end up losing them both).  His conclusion:

So while the liberal’s desire for peace is good, he errs in putting peace first, making toleration the summum bonum, and embracing moral relativism for the sake of avoiding conflicts. The conservative on the other hand, following in the longstanding tradition that stretches back to Aristotle and beyond, recognizes that our political order ought to follow from the moral order, which itself flows from our human nature.

Where does this battle between conservatives and liberals finally end? If our opponents emerge victorious, nowhere good. For the logical conclusion of liberalism—which liberalism fights against in the name of peace, but which liberals insofar as they are men must be led towards by the natural reason they try to suppress—is Nihilism, the most terrifying worldview imaginable. Eventually, “my truth” and “your truth” are seen for what they really mean: No truth. And a culture without any grasp of truth is a culture without any connection to reality, a culture thus doomed to die. We can still avoid demise, but to do so, we need a hefty dose of metaphysics, a serious consideration of truth to serve as the guiding principle of our civilization.

via Peace If Possible; Truth At All Costs | First Things.

Endless war

We have entered an era, according to Greg Jaffe, of endless war:

In previous decades, the military and the American public viewed war as an aberration and peace as the norm.

Today, radical religious ideologies, new technologies and cheap, powerful weapons have catapulted the world into “a period of persistent conflict,” according to the Pentagon’s last major assessment of global security. “No one should harbor the illusion that the developed world can win this conflict in the near future,” the document concludes.

By this logic, America’s wars are unending and any talk of peace is quixotic or naive. The new view of war and peace has brought about far-reaching changes in agencies such as the CIA, which is increasingly shifting its focus from gathering intelligence to targeting and killing terrorists. Within the military the shift has reshaped Army bases, spurred the creation of new commands and changed what it means to be a warrior.

On the home front, the new thinking has altered long-held views about the effectiveness of military power and the likelihood that peace will ever prevail.

In the decades after Vietnam, the U.S. military was almost entirely focused on training for a big, unthinkable war with the Soviet Union. There were small conflicts, such as Grenada, Panama and the Persian Gulf War, but the United States was largely at peace.

After the Soviet collapse and America’s swift Gulf War victory, the military bet that it would be able to use big weapons and vastly better technology to bludgeon enemies into a speedy surrender. It envisioned a future of quick, decisive and overwhelming victories.

A decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan has crushed the “smug certainties” of that earlier era, said Eliot Cohen, a military historian who served in the George W. Bush administration.

via A decade after the 9/11 attacks, Americans live in an era of endless war – The Washington Post.

The greatest in the kingdom of Heaven

More great preaching from our pastor, Rev. Douthwaite, on the text Matthew 18:1-20.  Read it all.  Here is the beginning and the end.  Notice how the law passages are all brought down on Jesus:

In common thinking, the phase of life called childhood is something to pass through. But for Jesus, to become as a child is something to attain, and a place to remain.

In common thinking, children need to be taught to become adults. But for Jesus, adults need to be taught to become like children.

In common thinking, children grow up to become something great. But for Jesus, greatness is in being like a child.

Clearly, Jesus is looking at things quite differently than we often do.

For being a child with Jesus has nothing to do with your age. Whether you are the youngest of the young or the oldest of the old, you are a child in Jesus’ eyes.

Being a child with Jesus has nothing to do with how much you know. Whether you have been a Christian all your life and know your Scriptures and catechism well, or you are just beginning in this life of faith, you are a child in Jesus’ eyes.

Being a child with Jesus has nothing to do with how you act or your level of spiritual maturity. Whether you are a pastor or a layman, an apostle or a catechumen, a leader or a learner, you are a child in Jesus’ eyes.

And so the disciples’ question today, “Jesus, who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” betrays the fact that they are not thinking as Jesus thinks, or seeing as Jesus sees. And so Jesus rattles them good! No beating around the bush with Jesus. He grabs a child – who, by the way, always seem to be around Jesus, have you ever noticed that? He grabs a child, stands him (or her) right in the midst of these big disciples and says: Here you go. Greatness. Be like this child. Humble yourselves. And if you don’t, you will never, ever, not in a million years or a million tries, enter the kingdom of heaven.

As usual, the disciples got more than they bargained for. But its always that way with Jesus. He is always giving more than we ask or imagine or think. And so the disciples ask a greatness question, and Jesus gives a faith answer.

For that’s really what this is. It’s not primarily about what we do, it’s about faith. For to be a child as Jesus is describing here means to be dependent. To be dependent upon your Father in heaven, like a child, for everything – to supply your needs, to give you your identity, to rescue you, and to protect you from your enemies. It is to acknowledge that you are, in fact, utterly dependent and in need of Christ and His provision. It is to be weak and vulnerable, and to learn to see yourself in this way.

For no matter how strong or high or learned or powerful you may be in the world and in the eyes of the world, none of that matters when it comes to the kingdom of heaven. Here, greatness is quite different. Here, greatness is to be among those whom Christ serves. And to see others and to serve others in the same way. . . .

And so you are the greatest when you are the least, for then all that you are and all that you have is of Christ and not of yourself, as He supplies your need, as He gives you your identity as His child, as He rescues you, and as He protects you. For greatness in the kingdom of heaven is not to accomplish the most, but to receive Christ and what He has done for you. For He has come and given His hand and feet and eyes in place of yours. He has taken the millstone you deserve and put it around His neck. He was cast into the hell of fire on the cross, for you, in your place.

And so if it is better for you to be hacked and plucked and drowned, far better is it for you that Jesus has come to do this for you! That the Father has sent His child, His beloved Son, to seek and to save the lost. That you have a faithful Father, a Good Shepherd, and a Spirit given to you and living in you. A Spirit by which we pray, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15) as His children, and knowing that our Father has heard our prayer for Jesus’ sake, and will always do what is best and good for us. . . .

For Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. Working! More huge words! Promise words. Words you can count on as you ride the Gospel all day, until your Father calls you to come into your heavenly home.

And with those words – did you notice? – we’re back where we started – except now the child in the midst of us is the very Son of God. And He really is. Not just in some mystical way – He really is! In His very Body and Blood, given to you here in the midst of your sin and mess. But He is not ashamed of you, to give Himself to you, to forgive you and give you life again. He is happy that you’re here. Not because of all that you accomplished this week, but because you are His little one. Which makes you great. For in the end, greatness is not what you do, it’s who you are. And you are a child of God.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 12 Sermon.

Why there shouldn’t be clergy at Ground Zero

That Mayor Bloomberg is not inviting clergy to participate in the ten year anniversary events marking the 9/11 anniversary has provoked not a little outrage.  But Lutheran pastor William Cwirla presents a contrary view:

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has banned clergy from participating in this year’s 9/11 memorial events at Ground Zero. Good for him! He’ll save us all a bunch of post-9/11ecumenical hangover headaches on Monday. As far as I’m concerned, clergy are best neither seen nor heard in the public square. And I’m one of them.

What makes clergy “clergy” is their appointment to serve their “faith communities” as we like to call them. Pastors, priests, rabbis, and imams and the like represent their various religious bodies and teach their various religions to their respective groups. They are public figures within their congregations and circles of influence, not within society at large. At least in this society.

The events of September 1, 2001 were not inherently religious in nature. I know Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher and their ilk like to say they were, but they’d find any excuse to bash religion. Yes, the perpetrators were radical fundamentalist Muslims. Yes, they did what they did in part believing they were doing the will of Allah and would be rewarded eternally for their actions. But 9/11 was an attack against the United States of America for its policies and presence in the Middle East. It was not an attack on Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism or any other religion. In case we’ve forgotten, the targeted buildings were the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and presumably, the White House. No cathedrals were harmed in the atrocity.

The reason we get all religious about 9/11 is two-fold, I think. First, it was an enormous, sudden and violent loss of life, property and personal security. The enormity of what happened that day is hard to fathom let alone put into words. I remember that Tuesday vividly and still don’t quite believe it. We were supposed to have our monthly pastors’ meeting. Instead, we planned our services for later that evening. I remember the silence of the skies overhead as planes were grounded. Events of such enormous loss seek enormous answers in a God who is bigger than the enormity of what happened. When really bad things happen, most people get religious. I do. I get that.

Second, we believe in our patriotic heart of hearts that our being American somehow transcends our being Catholic, Lutheran, Evangelical, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. That’s not true, though we like to believe it, at least on days other than Sunday. Hence the parade of religions around 9/11. We did it at the first 9/11 event at Yankee Stadium to show the world how we all get along and play nice in this country. It hasn’t always worked out that way since, but we like to pretend, at least when the cameras are rolling.

America’s civil religion has grown increasingly complex and diverse since our formative years when our largely Deist and Christian founding fathers carved out a place for Divine Providence in the public psyche. Ironically, a few of the founding fathers were skeptical atheists too, including notably Thomas Payne and Benjamin Franklin. But they, like the Deist Thomas Jefferson, saw the value of a little religion in public life, so long as it was neutered and kept on a short leash. We like our civic religions tame and domesticated in the public square. But as we who worship the Lion of Judah know, God is never tame or domesticated.

So as a Lutheran clergyman with a firm hold on the proper distinction of the two kingdoms, I say, “Good for you, Mayor Bloomberg.” And thank you for giving all of us clergy a day off from the public square. I’ll be sure to get together with my faith community on Sunday, September 11, as is our custom every Sunday, to hear of Jesus’ victory over Sin and Death and receive the gifts of His Sacrifice for the sin of the world.

And we’ll say a prayer for our country, for the government and those who protect us, including you, Mr. Mayor, as well as for all the nations of the world, for our fellow Christians scattered throughout all the world, for our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and for that peace that the world cannot give.

via Rev. Cwirla’s Blogosphere – No Clergy at Ground Zero.

When names become adjectives

Some people have made such a contribution in one way or the other that their names pass into the language.  The Washington Post has an interesting feature that takes up some of these names and argues that the actual person was different from the adjective that their names became.  (At the link, you can link further to complete articles about each of these individuals.)

Mao was not a Maoist By Jung Chang

Chairman Mao extolled the “hard life” for hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens. Yet, biographer Jung Chang explains, Mao enjoyed the choicest food, lived among 50 estates and earned millions in royalties from the books he forced the nation to read.

Clinton was not Clintonian By Jon Cowan and Matt Bennett

Is President Clinton Clintonian? It depends on what the meaning of “Clintonian” is. But Third Way’s Matt Bennett and Jonathan Cowan argue that the benign definition — having a willingness to take on party orthodoxies — is the one that will endure.

Rand was not Randian By Jennifer Burns

Rand wanted to live up to her novels’ heroes — men like Howard Roark and John Galt, who lived for their work and cared little for the opinions of others. So why, asks historian Jennifer Burns, was Rand heartbroken when reviewers didn’t like “Atlas Shrugged”?

Keynes was not Keynesian By Nicholas Wapshott

The term “Keynesian” has become a Washington insult — “shorthand for spendthrift, wasteful, debt-ridden, incontinent, elitist, socialist,” writes journalist Nicholas Wapshott. But the elegant British economist was none of the above.

Machiavelli was not Machiavellian By Miles Unger

“It is better to be feared than loved.” The author of “The Prince” offered cynical chestnuts such as this to 16th-century politicians. But biographer Miles Unger writes that Machiavelli was far from devious: He took in orphans, went to jail for his beliefs and died broke.

Queen Victoria was not Victorian By Kate Williams

The supposedly dour monarch who ruled England during the repressed Victorian era not only had nine children with her dashing young husband, but even flirted with the help after his death. Biographer Kate Williams offers a glimpse at the woman behind the frown.

Freud was not Freudian By Howard Markel

Freud demanded that his patients tell the truth about their most intimate experiences. But author Howard Markel says the inventor of psychoanalysis was never honest about his deepest, darkest secret: his addiction to cocaine.

Jefferson was not Jeffersonian By R.B. Bernstein

It’s hardly news that the founding father who wrote that “all men are created equal” owned slaves. But according to biographer R.B. Bernstein, this small-government enthusiast was not above big-government moves. Exhibit A: the Louisiana Purchase.

via What’s in a name … and what isn’t? – The Washington Post.

One could take issue with some of this.  (Believing in sexual propriety as Queen Victoria did does NOT mean being against sex in marriage!)  And I suspect that every person is far more complex than some single quality that might be attributed to them.  But still, this is a game that we might play.

I am currently engaged in an e-mail controversy over whether Marx was a Marxist.  Was Calvin a Calvinist?  Was Luther a Lutheran?

What other names could we scrutinize?

Economic purgatory

Here is a rather more optimistic assessment of the economy, based on the plans of America’s business executives.   I cite it, though, for the figure of speech in the final paragraph:

Washington policymakers are entering a crucial period for the nation’s stalling economy, starting with President Obama’s address to Congress about jobs on Thursday, but the fate of the recovery ultimately depends on decisions being made elsewhere: inside corporate America.

So far, business leaders have been standing firm, with senior executives making few revisions in the plans they had drawn up for expansion and hiring, according to interviews and a review of more than three dozen recent conference calls that executives have held with financial analysts. Even the wild swings on Wall Street during this cruel summer have not knocked executives off track.

But while companies are not undertaking new rounds of layoffs, hiring does not seem poised to take off. Executives speak of the same sluggish but steady job creation that has been underway for months continuing through the end of the year.

The cautious approach taken inside executive suites was also reflected in the grim jobs report from the Labor Department on Friday. While it showed that the nation’s job creation had ground to a halt in August, the private sector continued adding jobs slowly. After adjusting for workers on strike, mostly at Verizon, and employment cuts by government, the report revealed that private employers added the modest net sum of 62,000 jobs.

That result was consistent with the reflections of top executives, such Ronald L. Sargent, the chief executive of office-supply retailer Staples.

“I’m not an economist at all,” Sargent said in a conference call in mid-August with analysts to discuss quarterly earnings. “But from what I see, we have no chance at another recession. I think we’re probably more likely to stay in economic purgatory for a while longer, but I don’t have any worries about a double dip at this point.”

via Despite stock volatility, executives moving ahead with growth plans — for now – The Washington Post.

We are in economic purgatory!  We are being punished for our sins!  But we are still saved, eventually.   And government efforts to get us out are nothing but indulgences.  We can buy them, if it makes us feel better, but they don’t really work.  Can there be free forgiveness in the economics realm, or that just in the spiritual kingdom?


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