Love and Loyalty: A Meditation on the Fourth

The other day I tweeted this, and it drew more than the usual number of comments, and I thought I needed to develop it. Here is the tweet.

“Feel uncomfortable at a patriotic worship service? Don’t feel superior if you would also feel uncomfortable at a Fourth of July parade.”

The comments were mostly generated on Facebook, and I later added this to the discussion.

“My point is that many think they are uncomfortable at a patriotic worship service for high and noble theological reasons, when the actual reason is that they are just unpatriotic. I think we should flat out prohibit patriotic worship services, and then go down to the Fourth of July celebration to eat as many hot dogs as we can.”

In discussing this kind of thing, the issues get complicated fast, and so I thought I would try to do a little bit toward untangling them. If you want some additional thoughts, Toby Sumpter has some helpful ones here.

This whole thing is a complicated hierarchical issue, with layers and subtexts, and keep in mind the fact that these thoughts are simply preliminary.

A number of years ago, when George Bush Sr. launched Desert Storm, a dear saint who was leading our singing at the time called an audible and had us sing one of the patriotic hymns that was in our hymnal. The hymnal then was Great Hymns of the Faith, which we used to call Pretty Good Hymns of the Faith. Anyway, he had us sing that song, which caused some consternation in our congregation, as it should have. That was not the time or place for it.

But why? The simple (and simplistic) answer is that it was wrongheaded because it intruded “things American” into “the things of God.” No, the problem was that it did so in the wrong way, not that it did so.

Every time I get into the pulpit, I am bringing something thoroughly American into the worship service. I preach in American English, and I think in American categories. We do have some internationals in our midst, who are of course most welcome, but not enough to change the fundamental cultural “set” of the congregation. The whole thing is as American as all get out.

So why not wave the flag then? The answer is that to do so would be liturgically inept.

Uplift and Sunshine

This article is long enough and ignorant enough to be pretty tedious, but if you want to know how “what passes for journalism these days” is dealing with issues over on what they consider to be the Hard Right, you need look no further.

“Throughout Scripture,” Leithart declared in a passage from his 2012 book “Between Babel and Beast,” “the only power that can overcome the seemingly invincible omnipotence of a Babel or a Beast is the power of martyrdom, the power of the witness to King Jesus to the point of loss and death.”

The author then cites Peter saying something similarly outrageous over at  First Things.

“Leithart is the founder of a small school and related think tank, Trinity House, in Birmingham, Alabama, which Clarkson says ‘seeks to serve as a center for a new Reformed Protestantism, called Federal Vision, whose leading lights include Neo-Confederate authors [Douglas] Wilson and Steven Wilkins.’”

If we took all the journalistic competence on display here, rolled it up in a little ball and put it into a matchbox, it would look like a BB in a boxcar.

But while we are on the subject, let me say just a few things for the record. I do this in the hope that it will allay all concerns whatever, while knowing at the same time it will do nothing of the kind.

The Christian faith contains nations, but no nation, no empire, contains the Christian faith. Every Christian citizen of any nations, who has his wits about him, understands that he has loyalties that necessarily transcend the tribe — regardless of how big the tribe might be. It might be an imperial tribe, and it might be a tribe almost extinct, but God reigns all of them from Heaven. If you make Demos your god, where does your hierarchical vision end? It terminates in John Boehner and Harry Reid, and this is the point where I would encourage devotees of this pathetic faith to look upon their college of priests and reconsider. And looping in the Prophet Obama doesn’t help.

Second, suspicion of our current gaggle of corruptocrats is not unAmerican, but very American. Not only is it American, it is healthy American, two days before the Fourth American, down with the House of Hanover American. This, in contradistinction from that newer breed of diseased American, that species of capon that positively likes it when the kingident sends swarms of his officers to eat out our substance. At the risk of seeming stupid (“no, not that!”), I would like to suggest to writers of articles at Salon that the Declaration is not unAmerican.

And last, I would like to repeat something I have said a number of times before, and will probably be continuing to say until I die. The neo-cons with their talking point of “American exceptionalism” have really made a hash of this phrase, and have set us all up for the lefty statists who want to come after them and make us all bow down to the golden statue as soon as we hear the sound the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick. Changing Nebuchadnezzar into Uncle Sam doesn’t alter the theology of the thing, and the real Uncle Sam, unlike Nebuchadnezzar, would be more than a little annoyed by the whole enterprise.

Am I the only one around here tired of hearing about American exceptionalism?

Am I the only one around here tired of hearing about American exceptionalism?

The Founding of our nation really was exceptional, because the men who drafted our Constitution knew that American politicians, taking one thing with another, would be every bit as sleazy as the same class of men from any other clime. As Samuel Johnson once put it, “Politicks are now nothing more than means of rising in the world. With this sole view do men engage in politicks, and their whole conduct proceeds upon it” (Life of Johnson, p. 556). Surprise! Crossing the Atlantic did not change human nature. File this under things we should have learned from The Who, who weren’t going to get fooled again. Meet the new world, same as the old world — novus ordo seclorum needs to come back to Jesus.

The Founders knew we were not exceptional, and drafted a Constitution that did not trust us, not even a little bit. The subtext of the Constitution is not “beware of the English crown,” and it is not even “beware of the commies from the Soviet Union.” The subtext of the Constitution is that we are constantly to beware of boobus Americanus and the inveigling mountebanks they elect. We are particularly to watch their beady little eyes (Art. I, Sec. 2), their greasy palms (Art. III, Sec. 1), their sweaty foreheads (Art. II, Sec. 4), and their glowing promises filled with Uplift and Sunshine (Art. IV, Sec. 4).

That self-awareness really was exceptional. But we have now lost anything resembling such humility, and have replaced it with an Ozymandian pride, and are the laughingstock of the angels crammed into the balcony at the celestial matinee, who have seen ten empires rise and fall, and it is not even lunch yet.

Aluminum Deniers

A couple of posts ago, I said that limited government was absolutely dependent upon public virtue. Here’s why.

It all goes back to Burke’s “little platoons.” Raw individualism is not the opposite of the collective. It is what makes the collective possible. The collective likes it. The Hive can handle a pothead bee. The collective cultivates individualism because the collective knows how to take genuine rivals out of commission.

The atomistic individual has no ability to mount a principled and structured stand against the state. Whatever the romantic appeal of “going Galt” might be, to the extent it might work it would have to work in concert with others. And to the extent that it doesn’t work in concert with others, it will not work. But how can atoms work in concert with others? They must form molecules, and there must be a molecular bond. In order for atoms to connect with one another with that kind of bond, they must do it the way the Creator designed. You can’t put two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen together and get Congress to call it aluminum. And it doesn’t matter that Nancy Pelosi tells us that “aluminum deniers” are on the “wrong side of history.”

Sanctuary and Parish

I have written before on the ideal relationship of church and kingdom, comparing it to the church at the center of town, and life in the kingdom fanning out into the parish from that center. Word and sacrament are at the center, and they shape and form the lives of believers outside the sanctuary, but without ruling and dictating what goes on out there. I am using the words sanctuary and parish in a figure. The elders of the church do not rule over auto mechanics, or garbage collection, or interior design. First, it is none of their business, and secondly, they would do a bad job.

Family government and civil government and church government are the three governments ordained and established directly by God. Our task is therefore to make sure they are in a right relationship with each other, and to take care that one of them doesn’t try to swallow up the others. In our day, it is the state that is swollen with this particular conceit, but other eras have seen the other two governments try it.

After the Great Commission is fulfilled it would be appropriate, in a figure of speech, to say that “the Church” has filled the earth, as the waters cover the sea, but this is not talking about the church in the strict sense — gathered worship, the preached Word, the bread and wine, etc. A great deal of what will have been done by that point will have been done by nations and by families. These nations and families will have been baptized, and they will return to the sanctuary every Lord’s Day to be instructed and strengthened, but they will do what they do as Christians — not as officers of the sanctuary.

So that’s the background. Let’s take a test case. I used the phrase “shape and form” to talk about the kind of influence the sanctuary has on the parish, and a good example of this kind of thing from the New Testament would be the case of role relationships between men and women. It is good for two reasons — the first is that there is abundant material in the Scripture about it. Secondly, the issue has that peculiar kind of clarity that will cause the enemies of the truth to get whipped up into a bubbly froth, and the trimmers of the truth to hem, cough, a dig a little divot in the carpet with their shoe.

The Next Big Thing

Those who pay attention to the progress of their sanctification have long noticed the optical illusion of spiritual regress. By the end of his life, after decades of faithful service to Christ, the apostle Paul saw himself by that time as the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). The more you learn, the more you know how little you know. The more progress you make in holiness, the more aware you are of the blemishes that remain. This is not a false humility; it is how real humility functions.

And it works in the other direction also. The longer you go on in sins unmortified, the harder and harder it gets to even notice them anymore. This is why Scripture speaks of the seared conscience.

The same phenomenon can be seen in cultures. This is a corporate tendency also, and not just an individual one. If a culture is progressing in basic decency (a downstream effect of the gospel), the greater will be their ability to be self-critical in helpful ways. But if they are given over to their lusts, then the characteristic will be self-loathing (to be distinguished from being self-critical), coupled with an utter inability to see how bad they have gotten. The president could appoint Kuba the Clown as his new secretary of HHS, and nothing would be as apparent to the chattering classes than the fact that the people who had a problem with this are all haters. They didn’t have to go very far to get tagged with this because they are already filed under that category.

So in case you missed it, we have certainly gotten to this point in our own culture already. We have flipped over the handlebars of self-parody, have landed on the gravel of serious consequences, and have told ourselves (with apparent success) that the road rash we now have on our palms, thighs, and chin is going to be the next big thing in body modification.

A World of Admin

In my previous post about coercion, in which I did not have very much good to say about it, I mentioned that oppression and injustice is able to work because of its respectability. Lewis made a very similar point in the preface to Screwtape.

“I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of “Admin.” The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern.”

For many people, legal is interchangeable with moral, and they cannot conceive of injustice that came about with due regard for due process. But the election that takes away the rights of the 49 percent might have been a fair election, with no cheating. Hitler didn’t come to power in a coup, etc.

The Christian always has a court of appeal, no matter how many people voted for whatever outrage it was. One man with an open Bible can stand before lawless thrones and renegade majorities. This is because the definition of right is not up to us. We don’t control it. We aren’t in charge of it. The only thing we are supposed to do is honor it.

“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8).

There’s more, but I really should go . . .

Answering Some Ire Fire

One of my recent points, and one that drew some ire fire, was my contention that liberalism is inherently and tyrannically coercive, and that liberals, by advocating the programs of liberalism, are thereby advocating coercion.

Not being an anarchist, I believe that some forms of coercion are good and necessary, but because I also believe that cops, legislators, judges, and SWAT teams are made up of sinners, it is absolutely necessary for us to know that we have warrant from the Almighty God before we try to make anybody do anything. Before fining someone, or flogging him, or putting him in jail, or exiling him, or executing him, which pretty much exhausts the options, we had better know that what we are doing is authorized by God.If it is, well and good. If it is not, then we are abusing someone created in the image of God, and God is going to hold us accountable for it. We should either coerce with a clean conscience (and an open Bible), or not at all.

Liberals do not like this form of argument, because they want to pretend that there is nothing whatever coercive about what they are doing. They are not taxing certain individuals at abusive rates while simultaneously threatening the inadequately cooperative with imprisonment. No, what they are actually doing is that they are “asking” the “wealthy” to pay their “fair share.” Oh, since you put it that way . . .

Look. If you don’t do what they say, at some point in the proceedings, men with guns are going to show up at your house. I do not have a problem with this if those men with guns are going after a pedophile, or rapist, or a murderer. Go ahead. Coerce away. If you need them, I will provide you with the verses that show that God approves of this kind of coercion. But if they are showing up at a man’s house because he got tired of having bureaucrats pee a bunch of his money into the Potomac, then something has gone wrong somewhere. The liberal idea of democracy is three coyotes and a sheep voting on what to have for lunch.

Getting Lost in the Deep Weed

I have written before on the sinfulness of recreational marijuana use. In an appendix to Future Men, entitled “Liberty and Marijuana,” I argued that the one use for alcohol that is prohibited in Scripture is a condition remarkably similar to the effects of marijuana — and to the extent that there is a distinction between being drunk and being stoned, marijuana is demonstrably worse. For more detailed argumentation on that issue, I refer you to that place. So it is a sin to get stoned.

At the same time, I have also repeatedly urged us to remember the distinction between sins and crimes. Not everything that is sinful ought to be against the law. Granted that marijuana use is sinful — although many Christians today are muddled enough to not understand that — ought it to remain against the law? I believe so.

Now I say this acknowledging that many of our current penalties for pot use have been draconian, and I believe that our “war on drugs” has been an over-reaching and very expensive joke. So in what I am arguing here, I am not urging us to maintain the status quo. At some other time, I might outline what I think the appropriate penalties might be. But for now I am interested in the politics of weed, from the vantage point of free citizens who are now on defense.

In the current climate, the way weed is being decriminalized, what we are seeing is not an expansion of personal choice, but rather a transfer of personal choice away from responsible citizens and to irresponsible ones. This is what I mean.