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Occupy Handbook 1

Whilst browsing my local Chapters-Indigo, trying to find a half-decent use for a recent well-appreciated gift-card, this jumped out at me:

I couldn’t resist. One of the features that attracted me to it was the brevity of the (many) chapters. Because it is broken up into small bits, it makes for good blogging material. Thus, I hope in the weeks ahead, to occasionally blog on things that strike me as interesting. I pretend to no expertise on economics, and almost as little on politics. Hopefully, still, someone besides me will find it interesting.

To begin, a comment on the introduction, and on the first essay by Michael Lewis. Janet Bryne writes in her introduction:

Occupy Wall Street has the rare distinction of being a protest movement that even the objects of its attack can find little fault with. According to the Spectrem Group, a consulting firm serving ultra-high-net-worth individuals, 61 percent to 68 percent of millionaires support raising taxes on millionaires. Although every banker [we learn later that Paul Volcker is the only exception–AF] I approached to participate in this book, including JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, politely declined, it was impossible not to sense that, behind the scrim, income equality was a subject that everyone, even bankers, wanted to speak about. [xvi]

As always, when I read statistic assertions, I think of that infamous quote about statistics. But let’s assume this is true. Is this a remarkable fact? Perhaps it is; many would say these people are voting against their own interests. But I wonder if this is not, in a way, defining “self-interest” in a rather Darwinian way, as pitting the survival of one against the survival of the other. Is it really in the interest of millionaires to always vote to lower taxes on themselves? Consider a possible analogy: a man who knows he is going to binge drink at a party, and therefore takes the precaution of giving his keys to his friends. Prudent people sometimes act in ways that might, on first glance, seem to harm themselves by restricting their freedom of choice, but which, on a more thorough analysis, at least preserve their external conformity to the standards of goodness written on their nature as social beings.

In the first chapter, Michael Lewis gives us a 1%-er Screwtape writing to his posse of 1%er Wormwoods. He expresses (in his indirect way) what he believes the 1% have to hope for, if they want to survive with their privilege intact:

The modern Greeks offer the example in the world today that is, the committee has determined, best in class. Ordinary Greeks seldom harass their rich, for the simple reason that they have no idea where to find them. To a member of the Greek Lower 99 a Greek Upper One is as good as invisible. He pays no taxes, lives no place, and bears no relationship to his fellow citizens. As the public expects nothing of him, he always meets, and sometimes even exceeds, their expectations. As a result, the chief concern of the ordinary Greek about the rich Greek is that he will cease to pay the occasional visit.

That is the sort of relationships with the Lower 99 we must cultivate if we are to survive. We must inculcate, in ourselves as much as them, the understanding that our relationship to each other is provisional, almost accidental, and their claims on us non-existent. [6]

This passage lept out at me because it poignantly expressed the inversion of the natural law that Emil Brunner described in his Justice and the Social Order, as I’ve noted before. Instead of the classes seeing each other as part of an organic whole which must work in an integrated and mutually beneficial manner to achieve the common good, the rich, in Lewis’ fictional letter, are counselling themselves to believe they have no obligations to people they have not contracted to fulfill. If (and I write this conditionally because Lewis is imagining this dialogue, and offers no proof here that it corresponds to the actual beliefs of any sizeable portion of rich people) this is how the 1% really think of themselves, then they are ultimately only harming themselves, just as an arm which decided it could survive just fine without the body would soon learn it is not the whole.

Two Kingdoms Roundup

From time to time I discuss magisterial Protestant political theology here at CoG, and in that vein I wanted to direct our readers to a series that has just completed. Brad Littlejohn and, in one case, Peter Escalante, have done a helpfully brief series on two kingdom theology, laying out their narrative from Luther (and his context) to the present day, via Calvin, Hooker, and early modern thinkers like Locke.

Here are the six installments

The Two Kingdoms: A Guide for the Perplexed—Pt. 1: Introducing the Antagonists
The Two Kingdoms: A Guide for the Perplexed—Pt. 2: From Luther to Calvin
The Two Kingdoms: A Guide for the Perplexed—Pt. 3: From Calvin to Hooker
The Two Kingdoms: A Guide for the Perplexed—Pt. 4: Richard Hooker
The Two Kingdoms: A Guide for the Perplexed—Pt. 5: From Hooker to Locke
The Two Kingdoms: A Guide for the Perplexed—Pt. 6: Why Does it Matter?

Brad nicely summarizes many of the themes within the series (though there is much more in the final installment than the following):

1) It [Protestant two-kingdoms thinking] de-sacralized, or more properly, de-totalized, the State and the exercise of civil authority. Political authority was still ordained by God, accountable to God, and indeed redeemed in Christ, to be sure, and to this extent, could be said to mediate his rule. However, this rule of God’s “left hand” was radically distinct from His proper work of redemption and oversaw matters of temporary and limited significance; civil authorities were responsible to preserve the created order, not to bring in the new creation. This teaching set a decisive limit to the scope of civil authority, or the sorts of demands it could make. Of course, medieval papalism had certainly limited the state as well, but by seeking to make the civil authorities the policemen of the church, it had made rulers tangle with matters of conscience with politics, making heresy a civil crime. Although haltingly and inconsistently, Luther’s heirs worked to disentangle these two.

2) More foundationally, it deprived the church as such of juridical or coercive authority. There could be no spiritual jurisdiction in the full and proper sense of both of these terms. This was in stark contrast to the medieval system, in which the penitential system of the church was conceived in increasingly juridical terms, and the church accordingly tended to take on the characteristics of a civil polity. Worst of all, in the Crusades and in Boniface’s claim to a plenitudo potestatis, it made the sword to be a possession of spiritual rulers, calling for holy violence on behalf of the Church against the Church’s enemies. Luther’s reform, however, radically de-sacralized violence, associating it entirely with temporal rule and very limited temporal ends, and many of his heirs admirably carried forward this legacy.

3) Closely related to these two points, it stood as a bulwark against any attempt to immanentize the eschaton. Since we walk by faith, not by sight, any attempt to attribute eschatological ultimacy to any visible institution or activity was misguided. The two-kingdoms doctrine instilled in the Christian a sense of healthy detachment toward earthly loyalties, a healthy realism about what earthly institutions can accomplish, and offered consolation when they failed to achieve their lofty aims. It discouraged any attempt to make the kingdom of God a complete outward reality here and now by force, whether by holy war or holy law. Neither civil authorities nor church authorities could expect to create a perfectly virtuous people here in the midst of history.

4) Because of all these things, it treated freedom of conscience as sacrosanct. Because faith was not dependent on any human works, nor could it depend on any human authority, God alone remained master of the conscience, and his word alone, not the commands of either princes or bishops, could bind it. Although of course the realm of this freedom was debated fiercely and at times constricted, the principle was clear, and however much Protestants might quarrel over the scope of “things indifferent,” the fact that civil authority was limited to the regulation of these set the stage for the progressive expansion of civil society and individual freedom.

5) It served as a bulwark against an overextension of the sola Scriptura principle, to which many Protestants were tempted, and safeguarded the continuing value of natural reason and prudence to guide political deliberation. Good two-kingdoms thinkers resisted any idea of a Scripturally-mandated blueprint for politics or jurisprudence. This was one respect in which two-kingdoms thinking, in many other respects hostile to late medieval theology, preserved some of the rich contributions of scholastic Aristotelianism. Richard Hooker is perhaps the most prominent example of this use of the two-kingdoms doctrine, recovering the full resources of Thomism in his account of law in the civil kingdom even while maintaining a staunch Protestantism when it came to the spiritual.

6) In all these ways, the two kingdoms doctrine clearly paves the way for the development of liberal institutions. However, it provides what many Christian defenders of liberalism have lacked—a basis for secularity in the sense of non-ultimacy, but not in the sense of non-religiousness. In Protestant two-kingdoms thinking, the civil kingdom, despite all of the above, remains both informed by and concerned with the exercise of true religion. While natural law was retained and even championed by many of these thinkers, Scripture remained its authoritative interpreter, and the redemption wrought in Christ, although fully realized only in the eschaton, had implications for civil rule inasmuch as it disclosed the proper, restored order of fallen creation. Since grace perfected nature, good religion conduced to civil peace, and hence a good ruler could not be entirely indifferent to the promotion of true religion, although he must never seek to compel belief.

As a bonus, a few other essays by these gentlemen:

In celebration of the upcoming DVD release of The Dark Knight Rises, I want to share again a condensed form of a multi-post discussion Littlejohn wrote on the political themes of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. I include this post here both because I’m a complete Batman nerd, and because TDKR can be plausibly seen, in my humble opinion, as an apology for a 2K order over against the eschaton-immanentizing project of Bane/The League of Shadows.

Escalante (in some cases along with Steven Wedgeworth) has also discussed the themes of the 2K series previously. Here he interacts with Davey Henreckson further on Locke’s period, and here and here Peter and Steven delve into more detail on Calvin.

I commend to you, in general, both The Sword and the Ploughshare, and The Calvinist International.

On How My Mind Has Changed

I used to spend a fair amount of energy defending libertarian positions on politics and economics on this blog. In the time that has passed since then, I have shifted my positions on a number of issues, but the conclusion is, I don’t regard myself as a libertarian in any sense anymore. In general, my political/economic views probably come most near to Philip Blond’s Red Toryism (or, insofar as it is another name for the same thing, Blue Labour). Since I have changed positions quite substantially, I feel I owe it to my readers to be explicit in my shift. (more…)

Greg Koukl On Pockets Of Agnosticism

The following is part of a meditation by apologist Greg Koukl that has been a companion of mine over the years. I always find myself coming back to it now and then, as a reminder that my experience of what he describes is not unusual. Perhaps others will feel the same.

I mentioned a little while ago that I was challenged by a thought made by a professor of mine, and the thought had to do with the notion of pockets of agnosticism in our lives. He simply made the observation that all Christians have pockets of agnosticism in their lives.
Now agnosticism simply is uncertainty, lack of knowledge. Technically speaking, an agnostic when expressing his world view says, “I don’t really know whether God exists or not. I don’t know what the structure of the world is. I am withholding judgment.” In a broader sense it is simply, in people’s lives, uncertainty about those things which are true. And the point that he was making is that all of us as Christians, and you can expand that to all of us as human beings, regardless of what it is that we happen to believe in, have pockets of agnosticism in our lives. We have times of uncertainty. We may have a conviction about a particular thing–about God’s existence or about His non-existence, for that matter, but we have times when we are pressed, and we get to reflecting, and we are just not quite sure.

First of all, I want to say I think if we are honest we would all acknowledge that that’s true. No matter what it is that we happen to believe in or disbelieve in, we’d all have to acknowledge that that’s true. That one has pockets of agnosticism is not necessarily a negative reflection on his belief, whatever it happens to be. This is not a reflection on any particular belief that there are problems with it, or uncertainties associated with it. This is a problem of knowledge in general. There is no system of belief that you will ever have that is going to answer all of the questions all of the time in a way that is coherent and satisfies all of your thinking. It seems that the nature of reality and the limitations of knowledge are such that there are going to be things that we’re just not certain about. And so in a sense, we have to place our bets with the best hand.

Read the rest.

Psychology And The Christian Difference

Below are some comments a friend wrote, reflecting on issues raised by Ed Welch‘s book Blame It on the Brain. The thoughts on the significance of original sin especially, seemed important to me:

Welch’s basic map is actually very useful. The question is one of subjectivity and agency. Modern psychology is generally, though not entirely, under the spell of the “hard” sciences, which means, mechanistic figuration. This means that much of modern psychology will tend toward an impersonalist, materialist account of human behavior- not just abnormal behavior, but normal behavior too. As Welch notes, there are in fact basic physical injuries or imbalances which lead to behavioral abnormality, and for which the person is not culpable. And there are in fact conscious decisions which, however sneakily or self-deceivingly executed, are the person’s full responsibility. But then there is a vast range of things which are neither one nor the other exactly, and many of these are impressions and habits of soul which predate age of reason or full moral agency, that is, date from childhood exposure to traumatic circumstances when the person is still very plastic and impressionable, and deforming responses developed to such trauma can be very compelling and experienced almost as “nature”, rather than habit. Too, even in adulthood, certain kinds of trauma can strike a person’s heart so profoundly that pre-conscious deformative responses are developed in reaction. And these deformations can create certain specific dispositions to sin, though, as Welch notes, barring real insanity, we have to assert that the person is not compellingly determined to sin by these complexes.

The problem with Freud, of course, is that although he described “neuroses” with great acuity, he regarded the human person as epiphenomenal to a mechanical (he liked hydarulic metaphors) libido which was “channeled” this way or that by stimuli, rather than seeing neuroses as responses of the whole person, though at levels which seem or feel pre-conscious or unconscious. But the truth is that “neurotic” responses are in fact responses of the whole person, though we cannot identify the whole person with the fully “conscious” ego which we habitually regard, in reflection, as the “self”.

Thus far, any philosophical psychology can and should go, and in this regard, I recommend highly the works of JH Vandenberg and the other phenomenological psychologists of the 20th century.

What then is the specifically Christian difference? There must be one, by Brunner’s Law, because this isn’t math or physics or carpentry. This has to do with the image of God and his God-ordained path to blessedness. The problem with many “Christian” approaches is that, as the Dooyeweerdians rightly note, they work with a picture of a “spiritual” man who is basically an angel in flesh, but ahistoric and simple. Thus, there is a tendency to want to reduce all psychotherapy to either a) exorcism, or b) church discipline. This is an enormously stupid mistake. In reaction, we now have Christian counseling which, although it might be fine philosophically (meaning, personalist and non-materialist), is hardly Christian at all, though in a secularist and materialist age, philosophical rectitude is already *so* different from the prevalent model that Christians can mistake it for being specifically Christian. So what is the Christian difference?

I’d say that in part it lies in pointing out the sinful nature of deformative responses even if they aren’t per se sin or conscious sin. The old distinction between original and actual sin is useful here. If I’m bullied badly as a kid, and no adult steps in to restore justice, I might develop some really ugly wrath-responses which, although quite intelligible as self-defense maneuvers, derive from my fallen heart’s supposition of scarce, merely general, or even nonexistent Providence (not knowing truly that God is my Father), and ignorance of unity of man and the divine law of charity. And most specifically, the fallen heart is ignorant of the fact that God’s Son has absorbed and quenched in His flesh all sin, not just of man against God, but of man against man. Or I might develop fear-introversion responses; but the roots would be the same- original sin, by which I am totally depraved. Merely philosophical psychology runs aground here precisely on questions of constitutional depravity, and also of theodicy, and here, it has to be informed by Christian revelation in order to be of final use to people.

We cannot bypass the specific personal history and habituation of persons and reduce their problems, if they are genuine, to abstract “sin” categories, though those categories are certainly relevant to the consideration. The complexity and depth of original sin is, as it were, transpersonal; and grasping the historicity of persons is essential in getting to the cure of them. But must also insist that life in Christ, although not a magical abolition of problematic history, is indeed redemptive of it, and not just in the abstract. The concrete ways it is so can be shown in particular cases.

With some qualifications, I recommend the the works of Tournier as exemplary.

The Nature Of OT Laws

I just today found some thought provoking work done by my friend Brad Littlejohn a couple years back on the nature of some OT case laws. More specifically, he is, in various ways, fielding arguments from the perspective of Reconstructionists and theonomists (though also to some degree from people outside those camps, such as Christopher Wright and Umberto Cassuto) which suggest that many laws, especially several of an economic nature, were not enforced in Israel. They were considered as moral exhortations without legal force. Littlejohn argues ultimately that this is an anachronistic imposition of modern liberal legal perspectives onto the Torah.

Three posts on the subject: 1, 2, 3.

And his main essay: The Heart of Torah: Understanding Law, Justice, and Mercy in the Old Testament. [Since the direct link didn’t seem to work, to find the essay, go here and scroll to the very bottom of the page: Writings]

Class War Is Mutual Destruction

I’ve been slowly ploughing through Emil Brunner’s Justice and the Social Order. Soon, I hope to have some more extensive thoughts on it to share. It has been an encouraging experience. For the moment, though, I’d like to offer one passage I just read that, I think, demonstrates Brunner’s insight into the connection between the created order and our everyday realities.

The capitalist or employer who regards his workers merely as “factors in production,” as “hands” whom he can dismiss whenever he finds it more profitable, who feels no common bond with them but his immediate interest in profit, repudiates the bond of common service with them. He regards his workers in the same way as a bad general regards his men as cannon fodder. The Marxist worker, on the other hand, for whom even the employer whose attitude is totally different, and who has a full sense of responsibility, is only the exploiter, denies the community of labour and rends asunder what belongs together by order of creation. The primary wrong has to be laid to the charge of that kind of capitalist, but the secondary wrong, arising as its result and hence more pardonable, is not less disastrous. On both sides the class war is the mutual destruction of the community of labour. And yet economic life is precisely the field in which the mutual bond, the mutual dependence of the responsible chief with the authority vested in him by the matter in hand, and the worker submitting in confidence of his own free will, exhibits most clearly the difference of kind and function and the equality of personal dignity established in creation. (192)

On Becoming Machines

Nicholas Carr relays a profound warning from Joseph Weizenbaum in his fascinating book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains:

What makes us most human, Weizenbaum had come to believe, is what is least computable about us— the connections between our mind and our body, the experiences that shape our memory and our thinking, our capacity for emotion and empathy. The great danger we face as we become more intimately involved with our computers— as we come to experience more of our lives through the disembodied symbols flickering across our screens— is that we’ll begin to lose our humanness, to sacrifice the very qualities that separate us from machines. The only way to avoid that fate, Weizenbaum wrote, is to have the self-awareness and the courage to refuse to delegate to computers the most human of our mental activities and intellectual pursuits, particularly “tasks that demand wisdom.” (Kindle Locations 3526-3532–and yes, I recognize the irony).

Of course, we’re in no danger of doing that…

Bruce Winter On 1 Corinthians 7:17-24

I want to engage briefly with an argument regarding 1 Cor 7:17-24 Bruce Winter has put forward in Seek the Welfare of the City. In that text, Paul commends Christians to remain in the calling (Winter argues this should be translated “class”) they were in when they were converted. He then applies this to several specific cases: (1) removing circumcision; (2) becoming circumcised; (3) being released from slavery; and (4) becoming a slave.

Winter’s suggests that general reason Paul opposed changing classes in these cases was that the motive behind doing so was to increase social status. This would imply Paul did not approve of desiring increased social status.

To add a bit more detail to his case (see chapter 8 of the book, “Social Mobility”, for the full case) In the case of removing circumcision, being circumcised was often looked down on by Gentiles, and thus removing all traces of Jewish ancestry could indeed help one to be upwardly mobile. On the matter of becoming circumcised, Winter argues (more specifically in regard to Galatians 6:12, but says it applies here as well) that Gentile Christians could be tempted to do this in order to attain the status of religio licita, which would obviously be an improvement for someone who could not worship the emperor but had no legal exemption from doing so (the precarious position of many Gentile Christians). On being released from slavery, Winter emphasizes that this was a concession, and that Paul also that Christian slaves should not be anxious about their status. On becoming a slave, Winter notes that some forms of slavery available in the Roman empire could actually lead to improvements in status for some free people. He also notes that becoming a slave normally included an act of implicit idolatry, swearing by the genius of the paterfamilias. (more…)

A Study In Contrasts

James K. A. Smith put up an interesting post the other day, responding to a pointed question about his ecclesiology: Response to Deroo: Whose Church? Which Ecclesiology?

I basically just want to use this post to set out a contrast. Smith’s position is nicely outlined in the post itself:

Can I begin in a negative mode by identifying what the church is not? When I speak of the church, I am not thinking of the “one, true denomination” and certainly not thinking of my denomination—or some other denomination or communion that I romantically think is “the” church. I’m also not primarily thinking of a local congregation, though local congregations are necessary instantiations of the wider body of Christ. Furthermore, nowhere do I suggest the two definitions that Neal articulates (“those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God…” or “those who have the Holy Spirit inside them”) would be adequate to define an ecclesiology.

So what do I mean by “the church,” then? Let me try to improvise in response to that question. Neal is right to see my understanding of the church is “institutional” and bound up with “Nicene orthodoxy.” He also rightly highlights that I see the “the church” primarily as a community of practice, which I would articulate in the MacIntyrean sense.[2] As a community of practice, the church would be informed by a narrative and a tradition that specify and substantiate the “standards of excellence” for that community of practice (without which there is no community of practice[3]).

So perhaps I could say that the church is that trans-national community of practice (a “body politic”) rooted in the biblical narrative as specified by the “catholic” tradition of both the creeds and the liturgical heritage.[4] In the history of the church, our language for “standards of excellence” has been “canon.” As William Abraham helpfully emphasizes, the “canons” of Christian orthodoxy include more than “the canon”; they also include “ecclesial canons” which “comprise materials, persons, and practices officially or semi-officially identified and set apart as a means of grace and salvation by the Christian community. They are represented by such entities as creed, Scripture, liturgy, iconography, the Fathers, and sacraments.”[5] This is what it means when we confess the “one, holy, catholic, apostolic church.”

So the church is an international community of practice, a body politic, normed by the ecclesial canons of documents (“in which the very ‘canon’ of Scripture is a product of the canons of the ecclesia”), persons, and practices that have come to be part of the bedrock of Nicene Christianity.

In contrast, I’d like to quote from Peter Escalante, summarizing the magisterial Protestant position on what the church is: (more…)