Sunday, February 23, 2014

Ellul on Politics

A key passage on Ellul's thinking, from the article "A Synopsis and Analysis
of the Thought and Writings of Jacques Ellul," by James A. Fowler:

A primary agent for the propagandizing of technique in modern society is the involvement of people in participatory politics, especially in democratic societies where people are led to believe that it is "governance by the people for the people." Politics gives the individuals within society the illusion of freedom by having a sense of effectual participation. The "political illusion" of popular participation, popular control by the people, and collective problem-solving of social problems, falsely fulfills the need that individuals have for meaning, importance, effectiveness and security, leading them to surrender themselves all the more to the politicized state and the technicized system.

When all values are cast in political form, and all hopes are directed toward political solutions, believed to be on the verge of realization, politics becomes the "supreme religion of this age," propagating its "myth of the solution" for all social problems, despite the inability of politics to deal with good and evil, personal character, or the meaning and quality of life.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Prime Cuts: Selected Quotes from DON'T VOTE, IT JUST ENCOURAGES THE BASTARDS by P.J. O'Rourke

On freedom: "As unlikely a character as the crackpot Nietzsche has something to say: 'Liberal institutions straightway cease from being liberal the moment they are soundly established: once this is attained no more grievous and more thorough enemies of freedom exist than liberal institutions.'"

"The important Richard Dawkins has written a book, The God Delusion, in which he uses predestinarian atheism to argue that Richard Dawkins is the closest thing to a superior being in the known universe."

On our reason for voting: "If it's any comfort, we should remind ourselves of the purpose of voting. We don't vote to elect great persons to office. They're not that great. We vote to throw the bastards out."

On Baby Boomers: "A gigantic global 'Not My Fault' project has been undertaken with heroic amounts of time, effort, and money devoted to psychology, psychotherapy, sociology, sociopaths, social work, social sciences, Scientology, science, chemistry, the brain, brain chemistry, serotonin reuptake inhibitors, inhibitions, sex, sex therapy, talk therapy, talk radio, talk radio personalities, personality disorders, drugs, drug-free school zones, Internet addiction, economics, the Fed, PMS, SATs, IQ, DNA, evolution, abortion, divorce, no-fault care insurance, the Democratic Party, diagnosis of attention deficit disorder in small boys...The list goes on...Neither freedom nor power is what I should have been obsessed with for all these years. But it's too late now. I'm a child of my era. And speaking of that era, here are three slogans from 1960s posters that never existed: 'Black Responsibility;' 'Sisterhood is Responsible;' 'Responsibility to the People.'"

On "The Pursuit of Happiness:" "The United States is the first -- and so far only --among happy nations. 'Happy the people whose annals are blank in history books,' wrote Thomas Carlyle. Just ask Americans a question about American history, watch them draw a blank, and you'll see that we are the happy people indeed...Happiness is hard to attain, harder to maintain, and hardest of all to recognize...The fact that we don't know when we are happy raises the disturbing posibility that you and I are wildly happy right now...'Pursuit of Happiness' replaced 'Property' in the Declaration of Independence not to denigrate material wealth but to expand the idea of materialism. America was established as a way for Americans to make and do things...Whether these things lead to great riches, pious satisfaction, or transitory pleasures is nobody's business by our own...We Americans are very, very busy, and we owe it all to three little words in our Declaration of Independence."

On the free market: "The free market tells us what people are willing to pay for a given thing at a given moment. That's all the free market does. The free market is a bathroom scale. We may not like what we see when we step on the bathroom scale, but we can't pass a law making ourselves weigh 165 pounds. Liberals and leftists think we can."

On class warfare: "Then there are the supposed unconscious, involuntary, or authomatic conspiracies that history engages us in, such as the Marxist class struggle. It's over. The social class know as assholes won."

On the US trade imbalance: There is no such thing as a trade deficit. It doesn't matter if the US imports all its goods from China and exports nothing but pieces of paper. The Americans want the iPad and the Chinese want the handsome portraits of Benjamin Franklin. This is free trade.

On gun ownership: Gun ownership is crucial to the preservation of American freedoms. We may have to shoot Democrats. It happened in 1861 and it could happen again.

On the "economic stimulus:" Assuming the American economy need a stimulus, there was an alternate way to provide it [other than the $787 billion bill passed by Congress]. For only a couple of hundred billion more than the cost of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act...all federal personal income taxes could have been eliminated for a year...The advantage of a tax abatement over a stimulus plan is that, instead of idiots in Washington spending your and my money, us idiots get to spend our own. Our spending may be foolish, but not as foolish as government spending for the simple reason of Committee Brain -- individuals aren't as stupid as a group.

On committee dynamics: Committes are ancient and ubiquitous in our civiliation. Moses goes to a business conference with God and the next thing you know, Exodus 32:1, 'the people gathered themselves together.' And someone says, 'All in favor of worshipping a golden calf...'

On politics: I'm sick of politics. We're all sick of politics. We live in a democracy, rule by the people. Fifty percent of people are below average intelligence. This explains everything about politics...Whether we think politics is a bother or whether we are full of great expectations about all the good things politics tries to do, we have to scale back the scope of politics. Otherwise no good things will be accomplished. We can't treat the American government like mom, expecting her to get us off to kindergarten in the morning, fix our meals, wash our dishes, fold the laundry, keep our house clean and our grandparents happy, do the shopping and the gardening, and still somehow make herself interesting to dad. That's why mom snapped and started drinking and got in that car wreck.

On power: We've all heard Lord Acton's observation that "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Few know that this observation was made in a letter from Acton to Anglican Bishop Mandell Creighton on the subject of papal infallibility (something Acton, a devout Catholic, nevertheless didn't subscribe to). O'Rourke observes, "If power can do the likes of that [corrupt] to the Holy Father in Rome, just think what it's done to Harry Reid."

On the "conservative media:" Back in the day, Bill Buckley was the lonely voice of conservatism in the media. "...[W]ith little but his vox clamantis in deserto to guide it, public opinion went from the 1964 defeat of Barry Goldwater with 38.5% of the popular vote to the 1980 victory of Ronald Reagan with 50.7% of the popular vote. After Reagan was elected conservative media grew enormously in popularity and range. The result, as far as I could figure it, was nil."

Get the book.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The politics of prayer

An article posted by Christianity Today:

Pray for All Leaders — Particularly Our Guy

The Republican Party nearly won control of the Senate. It picked up seven seats, including Alaska, but was four short of a 51-seat majority. One of the reasons that the GOP didn't pick up the additional seats, said some, was the dismal performance of candidates endorsed by Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) and his Senate Conservatives Fund, which was often at odds with so-called establishment Republicans on the National Republican Senate Campaign Committee.

DeMint backed some winners, including Rand Paul (Kentucky), Mark Lee (Utah), Ron Johnson (Wisconsin), and Mark Rubio (Florida). But his critics have fumed over DeMint's support for candidates who won upsets in the primaries only to lose in the general election. They blame him for the GOP losses of Dino Rossi (Washington), Sharron Angle (Nevada), Ken Buck (Colorado), Christine O'Donnell (Delaware), and John Raese (West Virginia). If DeMint had stayed out of it, goes the argument, the Republicans could have won the Senate.

Family Research Council (FRC) is putting its weight behind DeMint. FRC president Tony Perkins said, "DeMint has been unfairly blamed for the Republicans' shortcomings in the Senate. Perhaps more than any other GOP member, Sen. DeMint is responsible for giving Americans hope that what's wrong in Washington can be fixed if we simply return to our nation's founding principles and work within — not around — the Constitution."

FRC has started a campaign to gather one million people to pray for DeMint. The campaign quotes Paul's instruction to Timothy to pray for leaders and then asks people to "pledge to pray for America's elected officials at least once per week."

Pastors and politicians frequently remind Christians to pray for governmental leaders and "all those in authority" (1 Tim. 2:1-2). For example, Stuart Shepard ended this week's CitizenLink webcast, as he does every week, with a call for prayer that elected officials will "have wisdom and follow a wise course for our country." When Shepard mentions an official by name, it is often the sitting president — Republican or Democrat.

But FRC's campaign is a thinly veiled call to support DeMint. The website shows DeMint, fists clenched. It asks people to "stand with Americans across the nation as we pray for Senator Jim DeMint." Elsewhere, FRC stated that the purpose of the one million prayer project was to support DeMint because an attack on the senator is "an attack on all conservatives and people of faith."

Indeed, those who pledge to pray for "America's elected officials" give FRC their name, e-mail, and Zip Code. What is not mentioned on the website but is listed elsewhere is that while the FRC will control the list, it will be used to communicate DeMint's prayer requests to pledgers. The list will keep pledgers "updated with specific requests as he works with the new Congress [on] our family issues."

Is it right for FRC to use Scripture to urge someone to pledge to pray for all elected officials, when the goal is to put that person on a DeMint e-mail list with prayer requests for his political battles?

For FRC, DeMint is an ideal senator, someone whose policy positions almost perfectly match the organization's. Last month, FRC Action's Tom McClusky said he was "honored to have the chance to work with a pro-life, pro-national defense, pro-family, pro-fiscal responsibility senator and his staff and I am proud of everything he has done representing the great state of South Carolina and a well rounded conservative philosophy in the U.S. Senate."


Comment: As Jesus eschewed politics during his ministry, and the apostles said virtually nothing about it (other than to pray for our leaders, with prayer probably being THE least political act one can take), who does the Family Research Council actually speak for? Not Jesus, I think. It seems more concerned with running to the support of Jim DeMint than in discerning Christ's will and what it means to truly pursue His kingdom on earth.

If the Family Research Council wants to promote conservative social issues and conservative candidates, wonderful. But it shouldn't try to pretend it is a Christian organization, when what Christ may want is way down on the FRC's priority list.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Just when we need him most

Aside from the Baby Boom generation being the most self-absorbed and worthless cohort to tample the landscape of human history, there have been a few bright reasons to be glad to have been born a Boomer: watching the Apollo 11 moonlanding during our lifetime; the Beatles; the fall of the Berlin Wall; the Raiders of the 1970s. All momentuous events that have made living in the Boomer generation memorable. For me, I'm grateful to have been alive in the period of history where I could witness greatness and genius. One such, was to have lived at a time to see the work and influence of William F. Buckley, Jr.

As a adolescent, I cut my intellectual and political teeth on Buckley's work. As a high school student in the late 1960s, I rarely missed a telecast of "Firing Line" (on PBS, amazingly), and all through high school I subscribed to National Review. The death of Wm. F. Buckley in 2008 was the end of an era, IMO. But now comes Athwart History: Half a Century of Polemics, Animadversions, and Illuminations -- A William F. Buckley Jr. Omnibus, a collection of the best of Buckley's writings. Editor Roger Kimball notes in the introduction to the book Buckley's many endeavors: magazine publisher and editor, television talkshow host, columnist, the writer of spy novels, lecturer, debater, traveller, adventurer, harpsichord player. "In his spare time," writes Kimball, "he ran for mayor of New York City and, along the way, rescued American conservatism from irrelevance and crack-pottery."

Every election since 1988, conservatives have wondered, "Who will be the next Reagan?" I wonder who will be the next Bill Buckley. We're a right-center nation, or so we're told (and so the election results of last week would indicate). But while conservatism has never quite gone into eclipse since Reagan left office, it's lacked much of the intellectual punch, clarity, and soaring rhetoric provided by Buckley and his colleagues at National Review from the mid-1950s onward to the close of the 20th Century. Who is the intellectual and spiritual heir of Bill Buckley? Glenn Beck? Sean Hannity? Ann Coulter? Sarah Palin? IMHO, each has their merits, but none of them, individually or collectively, measure up to the intellectual firepower and inspiration of William F. Buckley. And conservatism suffers for the lack.

Thanks to the policies of Barack Obama, there is a lot of talk about freedom and liberty in the country today, but who is explaning what liberty is, why it should be valued, and why a large and expanding government is a threat to it, beyond using the term as a cliche or in a guaranteed applause line? "The question is," writes Roger Kimball, "whether those 'uncorroded by a cynical contempt for human freedom' will command the wit, rhetoric, and moral courage to stand athwart tomorrow whispering, confiding, explaining -- sometimes even yelling Stop! -- in order that freedom might have an opportunity to prevail."

At least within the current intellectual vacuum, there's this new "Buckley Omnibus."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Politics takes on the 10 Commandments

(P.J. O'Rouke gets it. This is an excerpt of "Morality in Politics" from Don't Vote. It Just Encourages the Bastards) --

Politics violates not only the first commandment about who's God, it violates the other nine as well. Politics could hardly function without bearing false witness. Likewise, without taking the Lord's name in vain. The more so given that, in politics, the Lord who is so loosely sworn by is you and me -- mankind.

In modern government politics has taken the place of mere tyranny. The result has been more killing in the past century than in all the preceding centuries combined. Convetousness and stealing define redistributive politics, and, without redistribution, politics would have no political support. And graven image is as good way as any to describe the fiat money by which redistributive politics operates.

Politics' insistence upon involvement in every human activity, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, is more anti-Sabbatarian than golf. The Social Security system is no way to honor thy father and mother. As for adultry, there was, and there may still be, Bill Clinton.

Even to be "politically engaged and informed" may make us one of the devil's party, driving around town with a "Vote for Satan" bumper sticker. Listen carefully to that most politically engaged and informed radio network NPR and hear the evident relish with which it reports misfortune, inequity, and suffering around the world. The unspoken gleeful message is, "More occasions for more politics!" Nor are conservatives without delight in the others' misery. How we long for unemployment, anxiety, anger, and fear of bombs in boxer shorts on the next election day.

I believe in original sin, and politics may be its name. However, unlike some of my fellow Republicans, I do not believe God is involved in politics. Observe politics in America. Observe politics around the world. Observe poilitics down through history. Does it look like God is involved? When it comes to being a political activist, that would be the Other Fellow.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Wrapping the culture war in the Bible

I suppose I should know who Dr. David Barton is. He's a professor of history and such at Ecclesia College, a private Christian school, and heads up an organization called "Wall Builders." He's also, apparently, a semi-regular on some of the talking head shows on cable. I have to admit I've never seen him on the tube, nor heard of him in any context. But apparently he's "somebody." Part of his claim to fame is that he has often shared a stage with Glenn Beck at various rallies around the country.

He recently published comments on his blog answering the questions and criticisms of his association with Beck, considering that Beck is a Mormon. He tells his readers that in assessing Glenn Beck, one should look at his "fruits," citing Jesus' teaching that you shall know the character of someone by their fruit. He also draws a parallel between Cornelius, who wasn't a Jew, being accepted by the Jewish apostles, with how Christians should accept Glenn Beck. He makes the case that because of Beck's good heart he should be embraced by Christians when he talks about returning God to the center of American life and values.

I wish Barton hadn't made the effort.

Reading his blog piece, I think Barton makes a strong case that belief in Christ, as the New Testament characterizes belief in Christ, makes absolutely no difference in terms of one's political ideology or patriotic convictions. Which, frankly, is fine. I don't believe Jesus came to this world in order to make us all constitutional originalists or Republicans. On the broad cultural and values front, interestingly, religion has little to do with anything. I was a conservative long before I became a Christian. We can unite with conservative Jews, Mormons, Catholics, Pentecostals, and every stripe of evangelical, on social, cultural, and political issues. But it is interesting that when it comes to these cultural and values issues in America today, Jesus really is irrelevant. That's what Barton is saying, whether he intended to say it or not.

And if Jesus -- who he is, what he accomplished in his earthly ministry, and what he is accomplishing now in regard to the building of his kingdom -- is irrelevant in the culture war, then the "God" that Glenn Beck and others like David Barton appeal to isn't the God of the Bible, the God of the New Testament, the God incarnating Jesus, but is a civic God, and the religion they're talking about getting back into the nation is a civil religion, and not Christianity, per se.

There is so much in Barton's comments that I take issue with, it's hard to know where to start. I'll take one comment he made:

Recall the incident in Acts 10 where God shattered the thinking and paradigm of the Apostles by manifesting himself to and through Cornelius. In the Apostles’ thinking, this was definitely not supposed to happen, for Cornelius was part of the wrong group. Nonetheless, God moved through Cornelius, making clear that His blessing was upon him.
The point of the story of Cornelius was that God intended the salvation accomplished by Christ to be available to all people, not just the Jews. God didn't move through Cornelius as some kind of evidence of a pluralistic cultural "big tent," but to show the apostles that God's plan of salvation was for the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Cornelius didn't become simply a cultural ally of the apostles...he became a brother in Christ. For Barton to use this example in a blog about Glenn Beck tells me that Barton is confusing a political agenda with the working of God. And coming from a nationally recognized evangelical, that confusion is rather scary.

And the good fruit Jesus always referred to were spiritual fruit, produced through the union of the believer with the vine, Christ. Barton is misrpresenting the "fruit of Christ" in saying that Glenn Beck produces "good fruit."

On the cultural front, we can join arms with Mormons, Catholics, Jews, even atheists, if they are for a return to constitutional government, individual responsibility, and common decency. But let's not confuse this effort with the Kingdom of God, or declare a person who doesn't ultimately put their faith in Christ as "godly" and "righteous."

I think Barton, here, is doing huge damage to the message of the gospel with his piece. And I really wish evangelical "leaders" and self-proclaimed spokespersons, would stop doing that.

It's an interesting quandry. When spokespeople/leaders say we need to recognize that this is a nation founded on faith and that we need to rebuild the foundation of that faith, I tend to agree. But at the time of the Founding, Christianity was it...There were different stripes of Christianity: Baptist, Presbryterian, Quaker, Catholic, Episcopal, but Christianity and Christian values in a broad sense were the consensus.

We don't have that consensus any longer. We have Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, even athetists and agnostics in the mix today, as well we should, considering what freedom actually means in this country. And while Christians still make up the majority in this country (I'm being generous), in that mix are pacifists, Jim Wallis-types, and the like. Most black Americans are undoubtedly Christians, but 95% of them voted for Obama. And as Barton points out, there are over a third of self-identifying evangelicals who don't think abortion or gay behavior are "sins." How can a consensus intended on rebuilding our foundation of faith be forged from this hodge-podge? I'd bet that if you gathered ten evangelicals, and each one was interviewed separately about what their understanding of the gospel is, you'd probably get about 6 different answers, and the majority would be wrong (or, more accurately, would give you a truncated partially correct answer). I'm not too encouraged by what I see of the evangelical church in America today.

So, what are we to base our efforts to rebuild society on, considering the broad diversity of views and perspectives? The only answer is to build it upon widely held broad views, which will unite people with conservative values together under a "big tent." Oddly, sadly, this big tent cultural conservatism can't be built around Christ. I don't believe that an appeal to convictions other than Christ-centered convictions is necessarily wrong, even for devout Christians. Personally, I think a scriptural case can be made for kind of a "meh" attitude toward government and society. Jesus said, with an almost perceptible shrug of his shoulders, "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's," as if to say that the two don't intersect. The only consistent Christian message to the politics of this nation today is likely a prophetic one: "Repent!"

Fight for conservative cultural principles, if you must. But can these principles, as a glue to the entire society and culture, come from faith in Christ? Yes, if there was still a unified Christian consensus in this country. Otherwise, no, it must come from something else. Which is why I don't think Barton or anyone else should wrap the conservative movement, or Glenn Beck, or Sarah Palin, in the Bible.

That is my sanctified cynical view.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Politics as mental illness

National Derangement
The Political Illusion

May 6, 2010

Just when you thought it was safe to turn on your TV, there it was again—another mind-numbing story about politics.

You might have thought we'd catch a breath after President Obama's historic election. But no, we've been treated to daily doses of political news ever since—the "historic" election of Republican Senator Scott Brown, Tea Party events, and weekly political scandals. Now, we're looking ahead to November and the next "most historic election ever"—the one that will finally save America.

Are we all losing our minds, spending half our lives watching politics on the tube? I'm reminded of the words of Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th-century Danish philosopher. Almost 100 years before the invention of television, Kierkegaard predicted what would happen if such a thing were invented. "Suppose," Kierkegaard wrote, "someone invented...a convenient little talking tube which could be heard over the whole land. I wonder if the police would not forbid it, fearing that the whole country would become mentally deranged."

He was right: We are becoming deranged. We are succumbing to what French philosopher Jacques Ellul prophesied in the 1960s—the politicization of all aspects of life. Ellul foresaw the Information Age and the media's need for a steady flow of information to feed the populace. Media therefore would gravitate to covering centers of power. Politicians would be willing accomplices, because they'd gain fame and clout.

We've succumbed to what Ellul predicted—the idea that every problem has a political solution. This, he warned, leads to increasing dependence on the state and decreasing citizen control of government.

The result: The structure of government becomes so unwieldy that it can hardly function. For example, we've spent billions fighting terrorism—but we couldn't stop "the underwear bomber" from boarding a U.S.-bound plane, even though his name was on a terrorist watch list.
Ellul also foresaw that when government becomes all-intrusive, the intermediate structures that keep societies vibrant—families, churches, and voluntary associations—collapse and tyranny follows.

What's the answer? First, we better recognize that politics is not the be-all and end-all. Politics is merely the expression of culture. Clean up culture—that's our job—and politics will follow.
This happened when God's people were awakened in England in the 18th and 19th centuries. England then was in worse straits than we are today, with slavery, child labor, and rampant political corruption. But along came William Wilberforce, the Oxford movement, and the Salvation Army. What followed was a great, century-long revival of Christian faith. England was not only saved in the Wesley revivals, it was stronger than ever.

So we as 21st-century Christians must do the same thing. And there is no time to lose. If, as I believe, the political illusion has America by the throat, there are only two likely outcomes—revolution, which is what the Tea Party people suggest (albeit peacefully), or tyranny.
God has acted again and again through His people to change history's course. But for that to happen, the Church had better sober up, summon its spiritual resources, expose the political illusion, and begin to defend and live the Christian faith in our culture.