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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Shortsighted Governors; Prudent Archdiocese

...RICHMOND | The governors of Virginia and Maryland, both Catholics, said Tuesday that it would be wrong for the church to suspend or reduce social services in the nation's capital if the District approves gay marriage.

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley criticized the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington's response to the District's gay marriage proposal during a joint appearance on Washington radio station WTOP...

So reports the Washington Times.

Evidently, the governors of Virginia and Maryland think that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese is violating the principles of Christian charity by refusing to provide social services (such as adoption) should the District of Columbia approve homosexual marriage. Yet it is probably the case the the governors are being shortsighted while the Archdiocese is being prudent, especially in light of Roman Catholic scandals involving pedophilia.

Given the current political and legal climate of the United States in which homosexual advocacy is well-funded, aggressive, and enjoying the sympathy of major media, homosexual marriage is almost certain to pass, and with it homosexual couples gaianing the right to adopt children. During the first few years following the legalization of homosexual marriage, the mainstream media will almost certainly celebrate Heather and her two mommies or Harry and his two daddies. Sober, sane, authoritative mental health professionals will assure us that children raised by homosexual couples will be happy, well-adjusted, and...

Scroll down eighteen years later. The instability of homosexual marriage adds to the number of children who have grown up in broken homes, contributing to spreading social pathology. Among them there will be many a Tom, Dick, or Harry who had two "daddies" coming out of the woodwork with woeful tales of growing up sexually abused.

While homosexual marriage will be problematic for a generation of children adopted and raised by homosexual ccouples, it augurs well for future lawyers suing the institutions that make such a state of affairs possible. Perhaps even states which legalize homosexual marriage and adoption will find themselves sued; while judges, politicians, and other facilitators of the process may find themselves and their estates named as accessories.

The Roman Catholic Church is only now beginning to recover from a horrific, nation-wide scandal involving priests sexually abusing teenaged boys. Even now, tales from Ireland reveal a dark world of Roman Catholic charitable institutions in which the abuse of defenseless orphans was widespread. In a world in which its adoption agencies will be forced by law to place children with homosexual couples, it is almost impossible to see how the Roman Church--or any church with extensive charitable institutions--could escape further litigation over the same issue. Hence, the Washington Archdiocese's decision to back away from providing social services should homosexual marriage be legalized is neither bigotry nor political blackmail, but simple prudence coupled with a sense of responsibility. The Archdiocese is taking the long view and considering potentially unpleasant futures--something it must do to ensure that it is there for a future generation.

The politicians, however, are doing only what seems likely to generate positive publicity. In doing so, they show a singular lack of concern for the future--the very thing that children represent. While not a Roman Catholic but a Calvinist, I'm with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese on this one. Someone needs to tell the American political class that it is playing with social fire.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

All people that on Earth do dwell,
Sing to the LORD with cheerful voice.
Him serve with mirth his praise forth tell.
Come ye before Him and rejoice.

The LORD ye know is God indeed.
Without our age He didst us make.
We are his folk He doth us feed
And for his sheep He doth us take.

O, enter then His gates with praise
With voice of song His courts unto.
Praise, laud and magnify His name
For it is seemly for to do.

Because the LORD our God is good
His mercy is forever sure.
His truth endureth for all time
And shall from age to age endure.

(Old Hundredth, from memory).

Perhaps few will enter into God's gates with thanksgiving this season. Our children are increasingly told that the holiday exists to give thanks to the Indians for their help to the Massachusetts Bay settlers, and we have had a Secretary of Education who, back in the 1990's, publicly said that she could not identify with the Puritans' story (apparently, the Eastern Orthodox or Maronite Christian grandparents of Donna Shalala got along simply famously as Dhimmi subjects of the Ottoman Turks back in Syria and Lebanon, and came to the USA simply for socioeconomic betterment).

Yet anyone who has bothered to read a book older than the 1960's knows that the Pilgrim fathers gave thanks to Almighty God for their deliverance. Indeed, the troubles they faced in both Old and New England were daunting.

In 1603, Puritans dared to hope that James VI of Scotland might prove sympathetic to their cause. He had, after all, been raised by a more thoroughly Reformed church, and had been tutored by none other than George Buchanan, who had served as second moderator of the Reformed Kirk's General Assembly. Buchanan also advocated the constitutionalist and anti-absolutist doctrines held by most of Reformed Europe, the Puritans included. Yet these hopes were dashed when James spoke ill of both Buchanan and the Scots Presbyterian Melville, then told the English Puritans that he would "harry you from the land"--thereby sowing the seeds for three-quarters of a century of sectarian discord in Britain.

As for the northern parts of Virginia, as the Puritans called them, the land was desolate. Smallpox, working its way northwards from Mexico, had decimated the aboriginal population of the entire hemisphere. That Squanto, much less any Indian, was on hand to teach the settlers how to live in their new environment was by no means assured. The land was further cursed with winters far more bitter than those of England; and a much less fertile soil.

Today it is the fashion to curse the Puritans for their later wars and displacements of the indigenous peoples. Yet, would one that had not known their imprint have been a better one for humanity?

Americans pride themselves on their constitutionalism and consensual government. These might well have been unknown but for the settlement of Puritans and other Calvinists on these shores. We see the triumph of the anti-slavery cause as a progressive chapter in our history; yet it might not have come without the prickly Puritan conscience. As early as the 1690's, the Puritan judge Samuel Sweall viewed the "peculiar institution" with alarm; and it was from heirs of the Puritans that the anti-slavery cause received its strongest support.

While the Puritans envisioned a closed society of their own, a kind of non-liberal democracy (as political scientists might describe it), their ideas of political compact and consensual government have given hope and made possible the blessings modern Americans enjoy. Their biblicism demanded literacy; their sense of calling early on generated missionary work among the indigenous peoples, and prompted the translation of the Scriptures into Algonkin by Elliot. So, in their own way, they even sowed the seeds of universal education and--gasp!--multiculturalism.

So, let Thanksgiving of 2009 truly be a times of thanks--to those who made survival in the wilderness possible, to the heritage bequeathed by the Puritans, and, most of all, to Almighty God.



(诗篇 第一百首)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thoughts on John Calvin

Five hundred years ago, John Calvin was born in Noyon France. Why should I worry about this?

Well, my first post stated that I am a follower of Calvin's theology, so I probably shouldn't let his 500th year pass without comment.

Like most 20th century Americans, I was raised with an image of Calvin as the fountainhead of all that is obscurantist and oppressive in American culture. Today, even supposedly sophisticated people I meet are shocked that I have a deep respect and admiration for the Genevan reformer.

Having had to read a little of the man himself and his followers in the wake of a college course on Tudor and Stuart England (Calvin did, after all, cut quite a swathe through that era), I learned that the "elect" of whom he spoke were all, rich or poor, in Christ; and that Calvin liked to go bowling after preaching. Moreover, he was such a pathetic excuse for an ecclesiastical dictator that he got run out of Geneva on occasion, and never could get his preference for weekly communion passed. Obviously, what I had learned in my earlier years was a hostile caricature; for all of 16th century life, whether in Protestant Geneva, Catholic Florence, the Jewish Shtetls of Poland-Lithuania, Ottoman Turkey, or Confucian Ming China would probably strike the modern, uprooted, supposedly "liberated" man as oppressive.

The real Calvin and his followers were among the founders of the constitutional liberty we enjoy in many North Atlantic states (and imitators outside the North Atlantic realm). Near the close of Book IV of the Institutes of the Christian Religion (I've read both the Battles and Beveridge translations), he states his preference for a mixture of aristocracy and democracy in civil governments, "for kings cannot always be trusted to do what is right". However, this is said without dogmatizing. Further, across Europe, his followers such as Francois Hotman, Theodore Beza, John Knox, George Buchanan, Philippus Marnix van Sint Aldegonde and others down through such men of later generations as Johannes Althusius, Andrew Melville, and Samuel Rutherford were invariably advocates of limited, constitutional government and rule of law. The Presbyterian church order these reformers established further gave the laity a voice in choosing ecclesiastical leaders. This thought was especially scandalous to John Maxwell, Charles I's bishop of Tuam, Ireland, when he considered how a tradesman or farmer, sitting as an elder on a Kirk Session, might sit in judgment on the behavior of a monarch.

In modern times, the political scientist Andrew Black, noting not only the Calvinists but Cyprian of Carthage as well (interestingly enough, one of Calvin's mst-quoted fathers when Calvin speaks of church polity), wrote of a republican strain in Western Christianity, and called on the social sciences to abandon an all-too-common tendency to see in the throne-and-altar alliance of royal absolutism THE Christian doctrine of government. Black also uses his reading of Christian history to challenge the view that modern republicanism and constitutionalism are products of the enlightenment. Indeed, comparing Samuel Rutherford's assertion in Lex Rex (1644) that absolute power is a burden too great for mortal shoulders with Voltaire's praise of "enlightened despots" such as Frederick the Great roughly a century later, one can easily see Black's point.

If Calvin is remembered largely as a fountainhead of intolerance, it is probably because American theology is largely the product of Arminian, Unitarian, and Modernist revolts against the theology of the Puritans and their 18th century Evangelical heirs. It also owes much to a century of Marxist historiography with its complete impatience with any form of theological exegesis (and hence a propensity to utter stupidities when trying to interpret Calvinism as a social phenomenon) and its relentless demand that all Christianities--regardless of their internal democracy--fit the mold of Tridentine Roman Catholicism in its most post-Napoleonic defensiveness. But this cannot be our stance in an age in which even the cannibal Mocetezuma II of the Aztecs is given a sympathetic hearing and Muhammad's faith is called a "religion of peace".

Perhaps Calvin's second 500 years will be better.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The "Small" Biblical universe

I've long wanted to start blogging some of my thoughts about politics, religion, and culture. To begin with, I adhere to the Reformed variety of the Christian faith (Calvinism to the uninitiated), have lived and traveled in Asia, and know a few other languages apart from English.

I will start with a random thought (Hmmm. Aren't we Calvinists supposed to believe that all is predestined, and hence "randomness" does not exsit--at least from God's standpoint?) on some truisms of my not-too-pious upbringing.

"Of course the biblical writers thought that the universe was small. We know better now."

That was told me many times as I was growing up.

Yet, I recently was reading these verses from Psalm 8:

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and stars which thou hast ordained;
What is man that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man that thou visitest him?
(Psalm 8:3-4, KJV)

Clearly, David saw man as small and insignificant as he looked into the night sky and the astronomical phenomena that have fascinated us since creation. He may not have been able to put a number on the scale of difference, as modern astronomers may, but he nonetheless knew something of his proper place.

Well, so much for now. Peace, reader.