Friday, March 30, 2007

Dropping Shakespeare

Here we go ... Billy bloody Bragg!

Far be it from me to criticize the sort of person who has managed to retain the same strong Soviet enthusiasms (voiced in that Estuary- inflected Americanese that is now so very fashionable) for nigh on 30 years, when most people managed to lose them in the final days of their adolescence. But I do wonder a bit at The Telegraph making itself a party to such eyewash. Isn't The Guardian* the more likely place for this sort of thing? Has David Cameron so bamboozled proper conservatives that now even long-established Tory newspapers are under the impression that the best way to serve their interests is by abandoning them?

Whatever the case, Mr. Bragg--via the once conservative Telegraph--is apparently of the opinion that Great Britain is in danger of losing its cultural and political identity because it isn't enough like (get this) the United States or (it gets better) France!!!

He says:

It is an accident of history that we are not able to summon up a form of words that defines the values on which our society is based.

The Americans can call upon "the Right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" enshrined in their Declaration of Independence, while the French have the revolutionary slogan of "Liberté! Egalité! Fraternité!".

"An Englishman's home is his castle" is not much of a rallying cry.

Now never mind that the "form of words that defines the values on which [British] society is based" has long been contained in (as Peter Hitchens is endlessly pointing out) the Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, the English Bill of Rights, and the Habeas Corpus Act--which, I hasten to add, were the envy of the West for many many centuries ... Those things, apparently, are too old, and too time-consuming for the modern British citizen to be bothered with. Besides, says Bill, they're too "ambiguous" regarding "the precise nature of our fundamental rights" and, as a consequence, British citizens find themselves increasingly at the mercy of the sort of "ministerial diktat" that now threatens the imposition of identity cards amongst other, decidedly anathematic, things.

'Thing is, until the advent of Tony Blair's New Labour government (which, I hasten to add, Bill actively supported), these sorts of "ministerial diktat" were about as likely to get a toe-hold in the collective British consciousness as, say--oh, I don't know--the suggestion that the English have absolutely anything to learn from the Yanks or the Frogs.

So the problem with Great Britain in the 21st century is not, I'm afraid, that it's too British; it's that isn't British enough! How else to explain the increasing sympathy for this belief that the best way to serve a society premised on freedom is to come up with a primary document that makes "rights both visible and accessible to all"? Alas, in the absence of tried and true British pragmatism there can be no understanding of the fact that listing all the things you can do is far more problematical than dealing with the, by comparison, very few things that you can't ... Using violence to defend yourself against a violent thief? Not on the list, I'm afraid, so you're not allowed to do it! Off to Wormwood Scrubs with you!

Indeed, how else to explain Mr. Bragg's totally nonsensical worry that Britishness isn't attractive enough to its immigrant population? It seems to me that if these people decided to go to the UK of their own free will in the first place (though, to be fair, Mr. Bragg doesn't specify whether perhaps they're among the ever-increasing number of victims to the ongoing British slave-trade) than Britain's attractiveness to them is a given ... That so many of them remain unassimilated enough to resent the apparent imperative that they should assimilate suggests, furthermore, that the original quality of British life that enticed them there is--far from being disproportionately imposing--at very serious risk of disappearing altogether.

To be replaced with what, I wonder? The Pursuit of Happiness, is it? Or Fraternité? Did it occur to Mr. Bragg that the Americans and the French both absolutely insist that without the necessary precondition of, respectively, Americaness and Frenchness neither the so-called Pursuit of Happiness nor the concept of brotherhood have any meaning whatsoever?

An accident waiting to happen, indeed.


*UPDATE (April 10th) Having altered his tone from "Friends, romans, countrymen, lend me your ears" to "only an idiot and a racist would think otherwise" Billy Bragg's musings on Britishness find their natural habitat, some ten days later, in the pages of the Guardian. And a more patronizing essay you will have a hard time finding ... I'll just say this: while it may seem to the apparently illiterate Mr. Bragg that concerns about an ailing British identity are confined to a few middle-class cranks who "offer generalisations, but ultimately fail to give any solid examples of discrimination," the recent work of Roger Scruton, Melanie Phillips, and Peter Hitchens (to name but three) suggests otherwise. Ignore them at your peril.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Pelagius Risen (The Second of Two Parts)

When we say that a puppy develops into a dog, we do not mean that his growth is a gradual compromise with a cat; we mean that he becomes more doggy and not less.
G.K. Chesterton

Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
Matthew 6:27
So where was I? Oh yes. The precedent set by the Anglican Church as it accounts for Jay Currie’s singular version of that faith: a hodge-podge of notions, much more remarkable for what they omit than for what they include, but which do include 1) emphasis on a few select passages from the Gospels, directed (much more importantly) by a strong feeling about what Jesus must’ve meant by them, 2) a rejection of the doctrine of Original Sin, and 3) a belief that apparently God’s Chosen People was more of a temporal designation—that the chosen, in effect, are the Baby-boomers.

Oh, and the novel suggestion that Christ missed His true calling as … a lawyer! (That’s my attempt at the asked-for “lower body blow”.)

I’ve mentioned to JC (again: I’m talking about Jay Currie here, not the other JC, the S of G) that, insofar as the above conforms to no one version of the Christian faith—indeed, in the case of number two, to no version of the Christian faith at all—it becomes exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for us to argue our respective positions. I used this analogy:
You’re welcome to take the steak out of your serving of a steak and kidney pie, but it would be silly to claim that we’re still eating the same thing if I don’t. Sillier still if you maintain that you’re eating steak and kidney pie.
Rather clever, I thought.

Unfortunately for me, though, this sort of reasoning is terribly naïve. Fact is, the Anglican Church has been calling its own meagre offering—of, not so much a cold slab of liver pud, as just a plain green salad—“steak and kidney pie” since it first made the switch back in 1538. So, really, JC’s every-man-his-own-religion- still-bothering-to-call-itself-Anglicanism is not only precedented, in many ways it is entirely in keeping with the Anglican tradition.

For as you’ll probably already know, the Anglican Church was not the product of a religious movement. Which is to say: its historical establishment had absolutely nothing to do with the Protestant reforms that were, at the time, sweeping Europe. It was, rather, and to put it quite bluntly, the result of a bit of political maneuvering on the part of Henry VIII; whose request for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon had been, most inconveniently for the son-crazy King, refused by Pope Clement VII. Henry—fierce, and otherwise quite unapologetic Catholic though he was—quickly dispatched Thomases Cranmer and Cromwell to the (wait for it!) great European universities, to go about the business of figuring out how he (Henry) could get himself a consequence-free divorce. They did this, he followed through, got himself excommunicated for his trouble, and, folly’s-your-father’s-brother, he made himself the head of the English Church ... And here we are five hundred years later. Seeds sown and grown.

Now, whether these decidedly unholy¹ origins of a nationalized Church of England render it—and all of its Anglican Communion brethren—fatally flawed (as it unquestionably is by JC’s reckoning of it), or whether they just pose as an irritating, but ultimately surmountable (even necessary) challenge to the faith, remains fuzzy.

fuzzy, I say, because the challenge is ongoing and might very well still prove to be fatal. Here’s why:

The argument, on both sides of the progressive/traditional divide (so, respectively, JC/EMG), for Anglicanism’s legitimacy as a living church is necessarily an ‘after the fact’ argument. Yes, Henry VIII severed the English Church’s ties with Rome for the sake of personal gain. Fine. But enter the Caroline Divines some 80 years later and Hal’s abuse of the letter of the law is, a posteriori, not only imbued with a kind of ecclesial absolution but, in the end, a pretty convincing assertion of its continuity with the Spirit of the law.

So far so good.

The problem with this sort of apologetic, though, is that from the very outset Anglicanism bogs itself down in an extremely complex (even if entirely defensible) theological/philosophical/semantical formulation. That is: this “a posteriori” business runs a very high risk of ceasing to be understood, as it should be, in terms of the undeserved gift of a merciful and forgiving God (Who deplores the sin, but loves the sinner—as Christ loved even he that drove the nails through His hands and feet), and being recast as the precedent for God’s approval of essentially self-interested acts. (Because, I guess the reasoning goes, unless God’s niceness has been given way more credit than it deserves, His forgiveness should be taken as read.) Thus, ironically enough, the symbolism of a purely secular authority getting away with rejecting the authority of the Church and even going so far as to take that authority for himself has come, for many in the Anglican Church, to overshadow the whole Christianity part: a foundational understanding and recognition that God’s power is made perfect in weakness.²

A posteriori reconciliation becomes, then, very nearly indistinguishable from post facto revisionism.

And thus the great and ever-widening divide within Anglicanism (and, nearly as terrible, the only conceivable reason I can make out why JC refuses to put me on his blogroll). One side believes itself to be the reformed Catholic Church, the other—following Henry VIII’s lead—Whatever. A platform for social reform, social engineering … Hell, it can even be a place to indulge vague notions of the injustice of Original Sin; or to fantasize about the possible sexual habits of Our Lord. So long as Love (no, no, don’t feel as though you have to call it God or Jesus Christ) is paid its lip-service, old Mr. Impossibly-High-Expectations can just be happy with what He’s been given. (By the way, I thought it would be particularly abstemious of me if I gave up the Holy Sacrament for Lent this year. What do you think? … No, Lent’s the one before Easter.)

Ah, love. The ground-zero of faith for all progressive Christians. As I’ve mentioned before, JC is very quick to assert the veto power of “the simplest implication of loving each other” in the face of any of either of the Testaments’ more unambiguous imperatives. Recently he quoted someone calling himself “Spengler”—not, I think, to be confused with the eccentric but largely sound 20th century German philosopher of the same name—to this end:
Franz Rosenzweig, that most Jewish connoisseur of Christianity, believed that the Church of Peter (Rome) and the Church of Paul (Protestantism) would yield place to the Church of John (Orthodoxy) - that the churches of works and faith would be transcended by the church of love. If Europe has a future, it lies in an ecumenical alliance of Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and at least some elements of Anglicanism.
Of course, that I am myself largely in agreement with such sentiments (particularly the qualification that only “some elements of Anglicanism” be included in this über faith) serves as some indicator of the degree of obtuseness to which the inter-Anglican debate has attained. One side says it’s all about love; the other side counters that it is nothing of the sort. That it is, instead, all about love ... Here we go round the prickly pear / Prickly pear prickly pear / Here we go round the prickly pear / At five o’clock in the morning.

As I understand it, the matter stands this way: it is definitely safe to say, if we’re feeling particularly lazy and unimaginative, that Christianity boils down to a simple requirement that we should love one another. But! But, but, but ... This is not the kind of love that’s spelled with a heart shape or with a peace symbol. The interjection of such childish things³ can be of no consequence or use in a labour of transcendence (to use Herr Rosenzweig’s excellent and very concerted term). God moves in mysterious ways, after all, not puerile ones.

So what, then, does “love”—in this uniquely Christian context—actually mean?

The word comes to modern Christians by a very long and, at the end, hooked road. Until recently, we only used “love” to supplement our understanding of the word “charity” (as per the three Christian virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity). Which was as it should be; for while “charity” comes much closer to the true meaning of the original Greek word from which it is derived, agapé (in Latin: caritas), it does have a rather unfortunate habit of getting itself mixed up, in the common view, with the “charity” we associate with “good works”, with material generosity. The decision, however, to cut out the middle man on this one was a mistake, and completely counter to the spirit of reform which motivated it, however well-meaning. “Love”, unmediated by charity, is just as insufficient to describe agapé as charity is without love. Indeed, the word’s preponderant association with what is better described by the Greek word eros—that is, romantic or sexual love—makes matters uniquely complicated (as we are now seeing) by making love in and of itself incompatible with the orthodox view of sexual morality.

Thus, an error in translation has been construed as an error in the revealed Word. And thus thus, Bishop Ingham et al's call for substantial revisions to the Anglican Church’s position on homosexuality, abortion, masturbation and birth control is, actually, of a piece with the sort of loose theological thinking that used to turn a blind eye to any conspicuous barrenness of spirit so long as the offender spent a couple of hours a week slinging soup at the local mission.


So, in a very roundabout way, we come back to JC, who maintains that the Christian vocation is:
the work of bringing our prejudices into conformity with He who had none. The work of sacrificing our most fondly cherished beliefs on Christ’s simple altar of Love. It is, to follow in His footsteps and embrace the Other.
Which, again, I'm generally in agreement with. (Though this business of Christ having no prejudice is a little too mincing for me. Had He no prejudice against sin? Not the sinner, mind, but sin?) Of course, and I trust I'm not wildly overstepping the boundaries of reasonable inference here, JC means this in a much more specific and pointed way than is immediately obvious. Given the origins of our debate, I mean ... What he is referring to here, when he speaks of "our most fondly cherished beliefs" is, let's face it, our most fondly cherished homophobia.

Now, I've already pointed out to JC the traditional Anglican position on homosexuality, but I think this has availed my position little. In spite, even, of his sneaking admiration of Pope Benedict XVI, JC seems to be under a strong impression that anyone who accepts the traditional line that homosexual practice is an act of sin, must also take a certain amount of glee in the fact. Must believe his or her own sins to be somehow superior, or more acceptable, or less unacceptable anyway, to certain others.

Which is, I'm afraid, absurd.

Hell, even the Roman Catholic position on homosexuality doesn't support this:
Understanding the existential problems and the choices of persons living in de facto unions is legitimate and, in some cases, a duty. Some of these situations should even arouse real and proper compassion. Respect for the dignity of persons is not subject to discussion. However, understanding circumstances and respect for persons are not equivalent to a justification.
But, alas, we're confronted with a rather serious impasse at this point ... To appreciate the subtlety of this sort of argument (and, indeed, the profound fairness it betokens), requires something that JC has yet to reconcile himself with. Namely: an acceptance of the fact that we are all, from the outset, flawed. That none of us is without sin, and that the greatest challenge Christ poses to us is not that we turn a blind eye to this, but that we continue to love in spite of our sins and in spite of the sins of those to whom we are, ultimately, beholden.

But in the absence of such a rejection of that nasty old Pelagian Heresy, I fear that the best that can be said of JC's faith is that Richard Rorty hasn't entirely eclipsed that other JC (the S of G)'s rightful place at the top.

Still. That being said ... I love you, Jay.

¹Let me refer you, once again, to Christ’s rather unambiguous position on divorce: that it is valid only in the event of fornication. That is, adultery.

²Sorry. Forgot that Pauline references are off limits.

³Sorry, Paul again.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Pelagius Rising (The First of Two Parts)

For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:18-19
Jay Currie and I have been having a most fascinating conversation about Anglicanism over on his site and, for anybody interested in that sort of thing, I think I can safely recommend it as worthwhile reading.

JC (Jay Currie that is, not Jesus Christ … decidedly not, but I’m getting to that) JC, I say, is of the liberal Anglican persuasion, you see. And I am not. (That is to say: I'm not a liberal Anglican. I'm just a plain old, regular kind of Anglican.) It’s odd really, because in just about every other respect not only do I tend to agree with JC’s views of the world and its myriad follies, I’ll often slap my desk as I do too, and say something like “Hear, hear!” or (if I’ve been drinking, usually) “You can say that again, J-bone! We should hang out or something!” But on the matter of our shared religion we are, somehow, as chalk and cheese. (He’s the cheese, needless to say, I’m the chalk.) He says this of me:
It appears [EMG] is inclined towards importing the Old Testament’s vengeful Lord into the New Testament’s new dispensation. “‘Labour and be heavy laden’” quotes Mr. George.*
Nonsense, of course, but I blush anyway. My grandfather (the Reverend Calvin Zwingli George) would be very proud indeed.

But I should perhaps mention that our quarrel began some time ago, over the issue of, surprise surprise, same sex marriage. JC had suggested on his site that anyone opposed to SSM is an “idiot”, and I, being just such a person (an idiot? or an opponent of SSM? up to you, I guess, just hear me out is all) decided to take issue with him on this. I left a comment with him, then posted my own opinion on the matter … Barring an email or two, it was left pretty much at that.

Until, that is, two weeks ago: when Bishop Michael Ingham, of the Diocese of New Westminster, decided to announce that Christianity, particularly Anglicanism, had the whole abortion/ homosexuality/contraception thing ass-backwards. Needless to say, I thought this was utterly ridiculous and said so. Sure enough, JC thought the Bishop’s views anything but ridiculous, and he said so. And the feud began anew. (A distinctly respectful and, I think, even constructive feud, I hasten to add. But a feud nonetheless.) The debate has taken place largely on Jay’s site and is, as I say, well worth the read—here’s the link again (God forbid you should scroll up and lose your place!). But for those of you unwilling to take the time to do this, here, briefly, are the positions:

Accepting that Caesar is owed what I gather he is owed, it is my belief that homosexual couples are entitled to civil recognition (and the various practical benefits that this entails) of a de facto union, along the lines of marriage, but without its actually being marriage. JC, on the other hand, is of the opinion that the established understanding of ‘marriage’, as derived from the Judaeo-Christian tradition, is itself flawed; that the Jesus episode set the precedent for a rejection of the strictures of the Old Testament, namely its proscriptions against homosexual practice. It is for this reason, he believes, that not only should ‘marriage’ be the accepted term to describe civil unions between homosexuals, but such marriages should also be given the sanction and blessing of the Church.

JC elaborates his theological position thus:
[Jesus] required men to adopt a substantive teleological position towards “the law”. What is the purpose of a particular law and can it be reconciled with the overarching requirements that one love God and love one’s neighbour?

That teleology is the joyful burden which I believe every Christian must bear.

Jesus was not about nit picking or logic chopping; rather he was rather straightforward as to what God wanted.

Which brings me to cases. Propose for a moment that someone were to suggest the ordination of women. There is, no doubt, plenty of Old Testament evidence suggesting that such a thing is contrary to God’s Will. But the simplest implication of loving each other serves to override that. Marriage for the divorced? Pretty much the same argument. Gay marriage? Again, ask what the purpose of the act is and you are likely to have your answer.
So the debate, for all intents and purposes (and barring any of the Pauline contributions to the New Testament, as JC is under a strong (and terribly convenient) impression that these are little more than reactionary piffle), is of whether or not the Old Testament should be maintained as actively informing the teachings of Christ given us in the Gospels.

Here, then, is my argument.

Looking at JC’s theological position as given in his own words above, I’m basically with him right up until that third paragraph there. Indeed, the logic chopping business sounds about right to me as well. But the nitpicking, and everything else, just stinks. Or itches, I guess it should be.

Jesus was definitely not about logic chopping. No. But I know that He was also not above a certain amount of judicious nitpicking. (Lice, one assumes, must have been a rather pressing reality in a society that was largely unwashed. He certainly didn’t seem to have too much of a problem giving His disciples' (even Judas’s!) feet a thorough scrubbing.) Where the seeds (or nits) of destruction remain, no saviour can be said to have properly done his job. And given that I (and the bulk of Christendom—with the exception of a number of western Anglicans, of course) are under a rather strong impression that Jesus did do His job, this Jesus-wasn’t-a-nitpicker hypothesis simply cannot be expected to follow.

And it doesn't.

Indeed, if JC didn’t do so much logic chopping of his own in the cases he provides, he might've noticed this himself.

Take this business of "the simplest invocation of love" overriding the Church’s doctrinal position on divorce.** Unfortunately, and rather glaringly, Jesus the Nitpicker stands in direct contradiction to this. (Which, of course, is why the Church does too.) He says: “But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” (Mt 5:32).

Erm … Sorry, but are we supposed to believe that Christ was speaking figuratively here? Seems a little weak to me.

But JC’s error in this, as with at least one of the other two examples he provides, is not it occurs to me actually malign. It is simply an error of application. (The reasons for which, I think, can be traced directly to the precedent set in this respect (of error) by the very conditions of the establishment of the Anglican Church. But I'll get back to this.) JC is under the impression that Christ’s emphasis on the first two commandments in the Decalogue requires Christians to look outwards, or beyond the law and the prophets of the Old Testament. But this is to get it precisely backwards. (Though, it should be said, he is very close—in the sense that anything which stands in perfect opposition to something else (as with complementary colours) is but one full step, rather than an inordinate number of small ones, from its opposite.) For it is rather clear that Jesus does not leave the matter of the Christian vocation at a mere emphasis on the first two commandments. Rather: the imperative is ever present throughout the Gospels that Christians look through this lens, yes, but only that they might gain ever deeper understanding into even the ‘jots’ and ‘tittles’ contained within the Old Testament law.

To wit: to continue with the divorce example, not only does Jesus not say that if the condition of loving one’s neighbour is met then divorce becomes no biggy, he goes a great deal further and says: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Mt 5:27-28). The strictures, then, are actually tightened under Christ’s scrutiny; the spirit of the law is, it turns out, much more prohibitive (to use a really quite unfortunate word, given the delicate sensibilities of our day) than the letter. This because the spirit is the fulfillment of the law, not its negation. It gives us the means to embody—to live!—rather than simply to follow, the letter.

But, as I say, JC's fundamental misunderstanding of Christ's treatment of the Old Testament is not consciously skewed. It is undoubtedly self-interested (in the abstract sense—but this is no less important than the concrete sense, remember!), certainly self-serving by Christian standards. But it is definitely not intended as such. I see that. It seems to me, rather, that JC's misunderstanding springs from another confusion altogether, one that lurks darkly at the very heart of the Anglican Church. A confusion which, sadly, might very well prove to be Anglicanism's definitive legacy through its undoing.

But I'll deal with that in Part 2 of my little treatise here. Expect it to be up no later than tomorrow morning ... Better say tomorrow afternoon, actually.

*I hasten to point out that this “Labour and be heavy laden” business is a variation on a New Testament reference. Christ himself was the speaker, actually. But I quibble.

**Given that the Anglican Church has, alas, despaired and pretty much reconciled itself to divorce, we should perhaps take it as read that we’re actually talking about the Roman Catholic Church here.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Melancholia Terrestrium

The most depressing thing about the condition of politics in western liberal democracies today is not so much the cynically low expectations that politicians have of their public, as the extent to which the public has merited this. So ruthlessly committed are the masses now to their own credulity that they are nearly of one sneer, of one unwavering snort of contempt for the time when--as it were--horses preceded carts.

If it is true that governments exist to serve their peoples and not the converse, then it follows that we have failed them almost utterly as masters; that, indeed, we have contrived to become lumpenproles in the very territory of our abdication.

I blame you.

Kierkegaard's Advice to Notional* Anglicans

An old proverb pertaining to the outward and visible world says: 'Only one who works gets bread.' Oddly enough, the saying doesn't apply in the world to which it most properly belongs, for the outward world is subject to the law of imperfection; there it happens time and again that one who gets bread is one who does not work, that one who sleeps gets it in greater abundance than one who labours. In the outward world everything belongs to whoever has it, the outward world is subject to the law of indifference and the genie of the ring obeys the one who wears it, whether he be a Noureddin or an Alladin, and whoever holds the world's treasures does so however he came by them. It is otherwise in the world of the spirit. Here there prevails an eternal divine order, here it does not rain on the just and the unjust alike, here the sun does not shine on both good and evil, here only one who works gets bread, and only one who knows anguish finds rest, only one who descends to the underworld saves the loved one, only one who draws the knife gets Isaac. He who will not work does not get bread, but will be deluded, as the gods deluded Orpheus with an airy figure in place of the beloved, deluded him because he was tender-hearted, not courageous, deluded him because he was a lyre-player, not a man.

Here it is no help to have Abraham as one's father, or seventeen centuries of noble ancestry; of anyone who will not work here one can say what is written about Israel's virgins, he gives birth to wind - while the one who works will give birth to his own father.

Conventional wisdom aims presumptuously to introduce into the world of spirit that same law of indifference under which the outside world groans. It believes it is enough to have knowledge of large truths. No other work is necessary. But then it does not get bread, it starves to death while everything is transformed into gold. And what else does it know? There were many thousands in the Greece of the time, countless others in later generations, who knew all the victories of Miltiades, but there was only one who lost sleep over them. There were countless generations that knew the story of Abraham by heart, word for word. How many did it make sleepless?

The story of Abraham has the remarkable quality that it will always be glorious no matter how impoverished our understanding of it, but only - for it is true here too - if we are willing to 'labour and be heavy laden'.

Soren Kierkegaard Fear and Trembling

*March 20th: The original title of this post was "Kierkegaard's Advice to Nominal Anglicans", which was a mistake, and one that, perhaps, gave a little more offense to the party concerned than was actually intended. It could only make sense that I should have written "notional" rather than "nominal" as the Kierkegaard passage was meant to draw the attention of Jay Currie as a follow-up to the exchange we had here--wherein I belabour Mr. Currie's use of the term "notional" re. his Anglicanism. Mr. Currie astutely picked up on my reference anyway--in spite of my slight ham-fistedness--and replied here, to which you'll notice I left a ponderously long rebuttal in the comments section.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

Click on the image to enlarge.

(An EMG and Mrs. EMG production.)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Proper Hitchens On Progress in Continuance

Most serious wielders of power in democratic states devise ways of frustrating, or getting round the 'people's will' which they praise in public. Mostly, these days, these anti-democrats are of the left. In the US, a largely liberal elite has for decades been using the unelected third chamber of Congress - the Supreme Court - to pass radical social legislation. In Canada, left-wingers who could never get anywhere in parliamentary politics have exploited the 'Charter of Rights and Freedoms' to do the same sort of thing.

And the European Convention on Human Rights gives liberal judges and the lawyers the same power to intervene here. The balance of our mixed constitution, partly as a result of this, has tipped heavily towards the Left. Parliament, especially the House of Commons, is now the servant of a left-wing governing party, not at all its master. So who or what can speak for tradition, for conservative opinions, for private life and family, for inheritance and continuity?

We all actually value inheritance - we expect to leave, or be left our goods and wealth in legally enforceable wills. We all know that we inherit important characteristics and gifts from our parents, and hope to pass such things on. Our state, with its memory and experience stretching back a thousand years, inherits each generation the principles of law and justice and liberty wrought by centuries of experience and combat. So what is wrong with a Head of State who embodies this idea?

Nothing, except that he or she gets in the way of the Left's desire for total control over the state, especially over the things previously regarded as politically neutral and so loyal to the crown - the civil service, the armed forces and the police. All these bodies are now increasingly politicised. [...]

Peter Hitchens "Monarchy in the age of New Labour"

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Inconvenience of (Actual) Science

Needless to say, there's no point in watching this without having bothered to understand what it is addressing. If you refused to watch An Inconvenient Truth for the very understandable reason that that would be an hour and a half of your life that you could never get back, watch it now, then this, and recognize that right thinking people--at least in the face of something as ultimately trifling as climate change hysteria--don't need rely on persuasive arguments. They only need actual arguments based in actual science.

Remember too, that until this trend has gone the way of Acid Rain and Ozone depletion (to name but two environmental bogeymen that we never hear about anymore), you will, for all intents and purposes, be commonly considered as an anti-Semite.

Courage! 'Twas ever thus.

(Via The London Fog)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Re-Revealing the Faith

Michael Ingham, the Anglican Bishop of New Westminster (or: The Twilight Zone, as I like to think of it), is absolutely staggered that God has failed so utterly in recognizing His own obsolescence:
[Ingham] said the church has mis- understood references to homosexuality in the Bible, wasted energy in persecuting individuals who have argued for a new understanding of sexuality, and failed to comprehend how much the Bible and church doctrines have been shaped through the lens of male experience.
Honestly, when are Christians going to recognize that the Bible is the last place they should be going to for direction? The deposit of faith? Not worth its weight in arse muffins until Evelyn Fox Keller is made Archbishop of Canterbury and Michel Foucault is canonized.

... You get the impression Ingham might have misread the first O in vocation as an A, on that terrible terrible day when he decided to become a druid, er, priest.


ADDENDUM (March 13th)

For a fairly comprehensive debunking of Bishop Ingham's claim that Christianity is in need of "a better theology of sexuality", see this post on the (delightfully named) site Magic Statistics.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Jonas On Judicial Automatons

Beware of anyone talking about "evolving law." Expressions like "the living Constitution" usually signal a person intending to use the law for an instrument of social engineering. This is the main distinction between "purposive" judges, so-called, and strict constructionists. Strict constructionists try to read and apply the law as set down by legislature or precedent in their original context. When purposive jurists talk about "contextual" judgements, it usually means taking words and ideas out of the context in which they were used by the legislators or courts that pronounced them, and putting them into some other context of the purposive jurists' fancy.

Purposive jurists not only feel free to use the law as a platform for their political philosophy but come to believe that there is a moral imperative for them to do so. They feel not only licensed but commanded by history: they think that by "updating" the law, or "reading-in"--that is, smuggling into--a statute or the Constitution whatever strikes them as equitable or socially desirable, they are performing a benevolent or "progressive" function.

The opposite is more likely. Elevating human desire to human rights can destroy the rule of law even when such desires are equitable and well merited. Obviously this applies even more strongly to human desires that are neither.

What complicates matters is this. Although judicial activism gives rise to grave dangers, all judges are bound to interpret and apply the law. They cannot help it; it is their duty. Courts are obliged to measure a given piece of legislation against the principles of the country's constitution, written or unwritten. Very often judges need to divine the intent of the legislators, as far as their intent can be discerned, by using settled rules of statutory interpretation. Courts may also be required to gauge statutes against the principles of common law, as established by judicial precedent.

This is not the same as judicial activism. Legislators and citizens fully expect courts to interpret statutory or common law, measure it against the supreme law of the constitution, then apply it to the cases they hear. Testing statutes and legal procedures against constitutional and common law principles is what judges do--all judges, whether they are strict constructionists or judicial cowboys. What separates the two tribes is that judges belonging to the first are willing and able to uncouple their own personal social and political philosophies from their obligations as jurists, while those in the second tribe are unable or unwilling to do so.

None of this is new, though it is salutary to restate it from time to time. However, what is almost never noted is that in democracies, whether based on parliamentary or congressional models, legislators often want judges to usurp their functions. The reason is simple. Legislators who pass unpopular laws, or laws that turn out to have unintended side effects, must put their jobs on the line. Rather than expressing their own social philosophy by passing laws and risking the censure of the voters, lawmakers and governments often find it more convenient to appoint like-minded judges. Like-minded is not enough, of course; they must also be judicial activists who can be counted on to "read-in" or strike down legislation that elected representatives do not dare to create or strike down themselves. Far from usurping the function of legislatures, such judges act as their dummies.

George Jonas Beethoven's Mask