Thugocracy is a Tough Ruling Regime

That’s what Rep. Jason Chaffetz found out the hard way:

A Secret Service official’s allegedly deliberate decision to embarrass Rep. Jason Chaffetz could “give pause” to other lawmakers who have applied for federal jobs, cautioned former House Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis…(t)he disturbing leak to two media outlets of Chaffetz’s rejected application for a Secret Service job and the particulars surrounding it raised further alarm about privacy.

Stakes in the months-long conflict between Congress and the Secret Service went even higher Friday, after agency Director Joseph P. Clancy revised his account of what he knew and when he knew it, disclosing he had knowledge that private information about the Utah Republican was circulating before it was published.

Although it doesn’t involve physical violence (unlike this) this is another form of “thugocracy” which uses the brute power of the federal government (in this case the vast storehouse of information it has on just about everyone) against people it doesn’t like.  It’s akin to the Lois Lerner/IRS mess, and I think it has encouragement from the Occupant, who himself comes from a tough political system.

As Americans, we hand over large quantities of information, willingly because we are told that there is a maze of laws out there to keep it confidential.  If we are forced to keep this confidential because of federal requirements, we do so because the penalties for disclosing that information are pretty severe.

Now we see that disclosure of such information is becoming “at the convenience of the government”, to borrow a phrase from contracting.  If you want a citizenry that routinely hides stuff from the authorities and doesn’t trust them with anything, this is a good way to do it.

Should a Woman Lead the Church?

That’s a question that’s as old as Anglicanism itself, as Bossuet pointed out a long time ago in his History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches, VII, 45-47:

Accordingly, it thence came to pass, that Henry VIII gave
the bishops power to visit their diocese with this preface: “That all jurisdiction, as well ecclesiastical as secular, proceeded from the regal power, as from the first foundation of all magistracy in all kingdoms ; that those who, till then, had exercised this power precariously, were to acknowledge it as coming from the liberality of the prince, ami give it up to him when he should think fit; and upon these grounds he gives power to such a bishop, as to the King’s vicar, to visit his diocese by the regal authority; and to promote whom he shall judge proper to holy orders, and even priesthood; and, in short, to exercise all the episcopal functions, with power to subdelegate if he thought it necessary.

Cranmer acts conformably to this dogma,—the only one
wherein the Reformation has not varied. Let us say nothing against a doctrine which destroys itself by its own enormity, and only take notice of that horrid proposition which makes the power of bishops so to flow from that of the King, that it is even revocable at his will. Cranmer was so persuaded of this royal power, that he was not ashamed, himself archbishop of Canterbury, and primate of the whole Church of England, to take out a new commission of the same from under Edward VI, though but a child, when he reformed the Church according to his own model: and of all the articles published by Henry, this was the only one he retained.

This power was carried to such a pitch in the English Reformation, that Elizabeth had some scruples about it ; and the horror men had of seeing a woman the Church’s supreme head, and the fountain of all pastoral power, whereof, by her sex, she was incapable, opened their eyes at length to see, in some measure, the excesses to which they had been carried. But we shall see, without diminishing the force, or removing the grounds of it, they did no more than just palliate the matter ; nor can Mr. Burnet, at this day, but lament to see excommunication, belonging only to the spiritual cognisance, and which ought to have been reserved for the bishop with the assistance of the clergy, by a fatal neglect given over to secular tribunals; that is, not only to Kings, but likewise to their officers;—”an error (proceeds this author) grown since into so formed a strength, that it is easier to see what is amiss, than to know how to rectify it.”

There are really two questions here, and I’ve discussed both of them in the past on this blog.  The first–and the one which Bossuet emphasises the most–is whether the secular monarch can be the head of the church, with all the powers that go with it.  Any reasonable reading of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer will show that the Church of England exists because the sovereign allows it to under his (or her) “broad seal” and that the sovereign is the “Lord and Governor” (or “Lady and Governor”) of the Church.  And, as Bossuet goes on to point out (48):

And, certainly, I do not conceive any thing can be imagined more contradictory, than to deny their Kings, on one side, the administration of the word and sacraments ; and grant them, on the other, excommunication, which, in reality, is nothing else but God’s word armed with the censure which comes from Heaven, and one of the most essential parts of the administration of the sacraments ; since, undoubtedly, the right of depriving the faithful of them can appertain to none else but those who are appointed by God to give them to the people. But the Church of England went much further, inasmuch as she has attributed to her King’s and to the secular authority, the right of making rituals and liturgies, and even of giving final judgment without further appeal, in points of faith ; that is, of that which is most essential in the administration of the sacraments ; and the most inseparably annexed to the preaching of God’s word. And as well under Henry VIII. as in the succeeding reigns, we find no ritual, no confession of faith, no liturgy, which derives not their ultimate sanction and force from the authority of the King and parliament, as the sequel will make plain. They went even to that excess, that, whereas the orthodox emperors, if formerly they made any Constitutions concerning faith, either they made them in order to put in execution Church decrees, or at least waited for the confirmation of their ordinances. In England they taught, on the contrary, “that the decrees of councils, in points of faith, were not laws, nor of any force, till they were ratified by princes;” and this was the fine idea which Cranmer gave of Church decisions in a discourse of his reported by Mr. Burnet.

This may seem a controversy of another era; however, as I have pointed out, if so motivated Parliament (now holding the sovereign’s power) could impose such things as women bishops (the idea was seriously floated during the debate) and same-sex civil marriage upon the Church of England.  That’s certainly relevant in the recent call by the Archbishop of Canterbury (who is NOT the head of the Church of England) for the Anglican Communion to come to a modus vivendi in January.  How orthodox Anglicans can expect the Church of England to stay a stable anchor for the Communion with this hanging over their head (to say nothing of the internal silliness that’s always out there) is beyond me.

Turning to women’s headship, Bossuet’s point that it took Elizabeth’s accession as the “Lady and Governor” of the church to wake up people to the reality of the monarch’s place is as amusing as it is probably true.  But it was all foreseeable: once you placed the monarch at the head of the church and allowed same to be a woman (the French did not do either) then what happened with Elizabeth was inevitable.  And it seriously weakens any argument against women being either ministers or bishops in an Anglican church.

The English Reformation is without a doubt the messiest chapter in that part of European history, and these issues are at the heart of that messiness.

That’s One Way to Get Christians Out of the Military

Appoint an openly gay man to be Secretary of the Army:

President Obama, in a historic first for the Pentagon, has chosen to nominate Eric Fanning to lead the Army, a move that would make him the first openly gay civilian secretary of one of the military services.

Two years ago I opined that it wasn’t a good idea for Christians to be in the military.  Given the trends in recruitment and service academy admissions, perhaps that message has taken better than I thought it would.  This will only help.

People like Little Mikey Weinstein (who thinks that serious Christians are traitors) should be happy with this trend, but never sell the left short on being sore winners.

What Working for the Church of God Taught Me About Race

Race is the thing we seem to obsess about these days.  That, in part, is because Americans on both sides of the political and religious spectrum have hung their hats on it, either explicitly (on the left) or implicitly (on the right).  Looking at the results, the conventional wisdom on the subject has been unhelpful either in righting past wrongs or (more importantly) moving things forward for everyone.

I worked for the International Offices of the Church of God from 1996 to 2010, when my department was abolished.  In that time I got a chance to get out and look at this denomination from a broader perspective than most lay people get to do from a local church viewpoint.  In the process my idea of many things was changed, from the way church politics really work (I find a great deal of the CW on that subject hard to take) to what it really means to be a part of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural institution that the Church of God is.  It’s the latter I want to concentrate on, because what I experience will probably upset some people, as it doesn’t fit with their conventional wisdom.

The Church of God, more so than some other Pentecostal denominations (such as the Assemblies of God), is a distinctly “Southern” institution.  That may seem odd since part of the “heartland” of the church is in the mountains of West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, which was not a slaveholding region and generally favoured the Union during the Civil War.  (In the case of West Virginia, they seceded from Virginia to become their own state).  It’s easier to understand the culture if we focus on the ethnic origins of the people: the majority of people in these areas (and other places) are Scots-Irish, and they brought their culture to the church they became a part of.

Now I’ve spent a great deal of time on this blog on the subject of the Scots-Irish, with controversy following.  The point I want to make on that subject here is that, as my Russian friends would say, the Scots-Irish are a very “specific” people, with some very unique cultural qualities that have moulded the life of the church.  Don’t drink alcohol? Best way to deal with serious binge drinking.  “Clothesline” religion? A counter to provocative dressing from Colonial times to the days of Andy Capp.  Like preachers to holler?  The custom from the “old country”.  Bringing the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ to a people for whom “moderation” was a dirty word was tough, but it was done, and you really have to admire the people who did it.

The Church of God is also a Pentecostal church, and in its early years it reached out both domestically and internationally to the extent its limited resources allowed.  It did so to many different types of people, especially black people.  At the turn of the last century, this country wasn’t ready for a truly integrated church, and the early Pentecostals found themselves up against it early.  In the case of the Assemblies of God, they were set forth by the Church of God in Christ; in the Church of God, a black “church within a church” was started, one which wasn’t officially integrated back into the church until the 1960’s (there are vestiges of this still, such as the situation in Florida).

Outside of the U.S. the usual pattern emerged: Pentecostal churches appealed first to those at the margins of society, and they tended to be non-white.  But missions begat missions: as people in the Church of God from places such as the Bahamas (the church’s first mission field), Jamaica, Haiti, Mexico, Guatemala and even India began to move to places such as the UK, Canada and the US, they took the church with them, and the countries they came from became (to varying degrees) the “home front”.

This was the situation I found when I came to work.  Our department, which was charged with promoting men’s ministries and personal evangelism, would go out to an ethnic kaleidoscope of people and churches.  I got to know some really fantastic people with whom I would not have associated with otherwise.  It even got humorous at times, when the head of Black Ministries quizzed me down about growing up in Palm Beach.  And these people were loyal to our church: they were interested in what we had to offer and welcomed us into their churches and states.

Many of these people had excellent jobs working for either themselves in successful small business or some very large corporations.  In 2007 I got to preach in a New Jersey church whose pastor is a medical doctor from Granada.  Many of these people had accomplished more in 25 years on these shores than some of my own ancestors did in 250.  Now I came from working in a family business where, when you had a customer base, you treated them right and they in turn would treat you right.  Since they liked our program, were and are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and in many cases had the material success that has become the obsession of Full Gospel churches, it would make sense that they would be encouraged to take a larger role in leading our church.

But just because something makes sense doesn’t mean that’s the way it gets done, especially in this country.  To this day the Scots-Irish still dominate the life of the Church of God in a way that belies the multi-ethnic reality of the church, especially if you look at things with a global view.  The obvious question now is why.

The first thing to note is that the Scots-Irish don’t self-identify as an ethnic group.  They’re just “Americans” or “white”.  That means that everyone else are “ethnics” which tends to create a “hub and spoke” concept of ethnicity.  This is not a good thing, especially in a Pentecostal church.  What many overlook is that white people are not a homogeneous group either.   Scots-Irish preachers can talk all they want about being all things to all men, but the peculiarities of Scots-Irish culture mean that focusing on this one ethnic group leads to the neglect and/or alienation of the others.  I know of at least one well-known denominational official in another Pentecostal church whose family was driven out of the Church of God when one of our ministers came to the cold country to preach “Southernism” and all that went with that rather than the Gospel.  Many of our pastors who are from the North and ministered there had the same tug of war.  It was all to easy to allow our churches to become “Southern culture clubs”, which was fine for the Southerners but not so hot for everyone else.  But this pattern has been repeated by our other ethnic groups as well.

As a South Floridian who grew up away from the remnants of “cracker culture” in that area, I found myself having more in common with our non-white people than with our white ones.  A large part of that is because our non-white people–especially people from the Caribbean–tend to be more urban in outlook than our white ones (Scots-Irish tend to countrify the town and not urbanise themselves when moving there).  And the cities, for better or worse, are where it’s at these days.

But another looming reality comes from the history not only of the Scots-Irish but the Celtic peoples who either inhabit or have ancestors in the extremities of the British Isles.  In terms of setting their own destiny their interaction with the English put them in one of two positions: either they were completely independent or in abject submission bordering on slavery.  As is the case with many things Celtic, there’s no middle ground: the enclosures, the Irish potato famine, the suppression of Roman Catholicism, you name it.  That’s why the wars between Irish and English, for example, or between Unionist and Republican in Ulster, are so bitter.  In many ways the United States is the Celtic dream come true: free from the English, free to roam and make your own destiny, which is why our elites, who would like a more centralised Anglo-European way, have come to dislike things traditionally American.

That historical memory–something that has outlasted even a good grasp of their origins–drives a great deal of the way the Scots-Irish interact politically and culturally.  It explains the reflexive cultural imperialism, the aversion to consider themselves another ethnic group, the tenacity to hold onto power.  Having dealt with the “my way or the highway” English for centuries, the idea of sharing it with others–even within the confines of a church called by God’s name not theirs–is hard to take.  (The Baptists tipped their hand by calling their recreation of the Confederacy in ecclesiastical form the “Southern Baptist Convention”).

That’s really at work when the Scots-Irish go into “suicide-panic” mode, as they did during 2006-8 in the “Missional Revolt“.  What detonated this “Braveheart” event were financial weaknesses at the state and international levels, and there was certainly room for improvement here.  (I also found that the biggest difference between government and NGO non-profits was the source and size of funding; the former could waste more because they could coerce more).  But another issue was to keep the funding for World Missions, an objective that ultimately failed because cutting the general remission from local churches “upstairs” cut missions as well.  It never occurred to these “leading edge” pastors (who were almost all white) that what we needed was not a preservation of the existing system but a paradigm shift where both the source of funds and the distribution of control in the church shifted away from one ethnic group to a more even balance among the church’s constitutive elements.

Given this “the more things change the more things stay the same” attitude towards ethnicity and the life of the church, when my department was abolished in 2010 I took my leave, although I could have put forth an effort to stay in some capacity.  One reason why I did not was that I saw no progress on this front from any side.  There was no game plan to turn the Church of God into a truly multi-ethnic and multi-cultural institution from top to bottom.

A large reason Pentecostal churches grow and others don’t is because Pentecostal churches expand among non-white groups in a way that others don’t.  Many want to turn this in to another “moral crusade” but the simple truth is that hindering multi-cultural growth is just plain stupid if we’re serious about expanding our church and fulfilling our mission.

It’s a two-way street though.  We should certainly have all of our ethnic groups better represented in the leadership of our church but we also need to realise that all who lead must also in measure contribute to the finances of the church.  Getting rid of the “hub and spoke” system of ethnicity must be accompanied by getting rid of it financially.  My experience in the Church of God tells me that this is not only possible but in the long run will result in greater resources for God’s work.

And then we will be closer to fulfilling the mission God put us here to do.

Taking God’s Place in Kentucky

It’s everywhere: Rowan County, Kentucky clerk Kim Davis has gone to jail for refusing to sign off on same-sex civil marriages.  The usual people are taking the usual positions; it’s time for something a little different.

First: it isn’t a “rule of law” issue.  Meaningful rule of law went out the window in this country last summer; bawling about Davis being outside of it isn’t very informative.  The real mix of federal and state laws will make for some interesting litigation but people who simply say that “she has to do her job” haven’t been paying attention lately.  Neither have those who think she has the “right” to refuse.  She simply has to take a stand wherever and she has.

Personally, I think she should have quit, as one of her counterparts in Tennessee did after the SCOTUS decision on same-sex civil marriage.  But let’s ask the serious question: was she going against God before same-sex civil marriage got shoved into her portfolio?  The answer is yes.

When God instituted marriage in the garden, he did not do so by forcing Adam and Eve to go to the local governmental authorities and get their approval.  For centuries people felt no compulsion to run to the state to have their marriages solemnised.  God instituted it, people did it, and that was it.

Civil marriage, especially in places like France, was instituted to take away the last say on the subject from the church.  The church was fulfilling God’s role for marriage; now that role became the state’s, as J.R.R. Tolkien lamented.  Thus, every time any representative of the state officiates a marriage, they are doing so in the place of God.  That includes our ministers who officiate civil marriages, which is why they (and their denominations, if they’re a part of one) need to take the Marriage Pledge and get it right.

So should Kim Davis take a stand and go to jail?  That’s her decision.  More power to her to do so.  But while she’s got plenty of time to think about things, hopefully she’ll realise that she was in error in standing in God’s place before same-sex civil marriage and ultimately quit taking God’s place for any pairing–or collection–of people.

My Brother’s Passing, Twenty Years Out

As I said at the start of the year, it’s a year of commemorating anniversaries.  Today is the twentieth anniversary of my brother’s passing; he was 41 when he stepped into eternity.

It’s still difficult to really write about this.  And it’s not because I’m “blaming God” either.  Most of the disasters that befell my family were of purely human invention and considered blaming anyone else for anything to be whining.

Fortunately I’ve dealt with things about the last year of his life elsewhere; you can read about them here:

An Aggie Throwback: Answer Coffeehouse Rehearsal, Forty Years Out

Another milestone on the blog: the fortieth anniversary of the recording of the Answer Coffeehouse Rehearsal in College Station, Texas.  It’s primitive in many ways but for those of us who were involved in it it’s the only recording out there.  There aren’t many Christian coffee-house recordings from the day around in general; this is one of them.

The post gives the explanation of the recordings.  It still features what is, IMHO, the best musical rendition of Isaiah 40:31 out there.

As we start yet another season in the SEC, the fruit of that ministry and others remains the best part of being an Aggie.

When Your Metairie is Wiped Out: My First Post After Hurricane Katrina

This weekend is the tenth anniversary of the Gulf Coast landing of Hurricane Katrina, which wrought so much destruction in both Louisiana and Mississippi.  I had started the predecessor format of this blog earlier that year.  Given ancestral and business interests, a disaster of this size made an impact on me, especially after visiting the place the following year.

My focus at the time was on the eternal, and that’s never a bad thing.  But the aftermath of Katrina, and the relief effort that followed, highlighted two things.  The first was the total inability of our governmental agencies to act effectively in response to this disaster.  Most of the media blame was centred on George W. Bush.  But to err is human; for a real disaster, you need a bipartisan effort, and Louisiana in particular supplied the Democrats to round things out.  The only state or federal executive to have his or her reputation come out enhanced was Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.

The second was the response of the church.  In many ways, Katrina was the church’s finest hour since 9/11.  The speed at which churches and parachurch organisations responded and organised relief of all kinds amazed even those of us who were familiar with its charitable arm.  Ministries such as Operation Blessing, Operation Compassion, Mercy Chefs, God’s Pit Crew, the Southern Baptist efforts and many others rose to the occasion and, within the limitations of their resources, filled in the many gaps left by government.

People who blithely call for the revocation of churches’ tax exempt status, saying the government can take care of such things, have conveniently forgotten the lessons of Katrina.  If they succeed, they will soon see the fulfilment of their prophet Karl Marx’ dictum that history repeats itself: the first time as a tragedy, the second as a farce.  How funny the next round of victims sees that is another story…

Hurricane Katrina has come and gone, and taken a good deal of the New Orleans area with it. There’s a lesson from this that dates back to the time New Orleans was founded. In Matthew we read the following parable:

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables. “The Kingdom of Heaven,” he said, “may be compared to a king who gave a banquet in honor of his son’s wedding. He sent his servants to call those who had been invited to the banquet, but they were unwilling to come. A second time he sent some servants, with orders to say to those who had been invited ‘I have prepared my breakfast, my cattle and fat beasts are killed and everything is ready; come to the banquet.’ They, however, took no notice, but went off, one to his farm, another to his business; While the rest, seizing his servants, ill-treated them and killed them. The king, in anger, sent his troops, put those murderers to death, and set their city on fire. Then he said to his servants ‘The banquet is prepared, but those who were invited were not worthy. So go to the cross-roads, and invite everyone you find to the banquet.’ (Mt. 22:1-9)

In his classic Meditations on the Gospel, the French bishop Jaques Bénigne Bossuet translated the term “farm” (v. 5) with the term métairie. Residents of southern Louisiana are all too familiar with this term: today the city of Metairie, the suburb in Jefferson Parish immediately west of New Orleans, is underwater, victim of Hurricane Katrina and a broken levee. The immensity of the tragedy is beyond words.

The term métairie refers to a form of sharecropping that was practiced in New France, and the estates where it was practiced. When New Orleans was founded in 1718—just a few short years after Bossuet wrote his Meditations in old France—it was concentrated in what is now called the Vieux Carré, the French Quarter. The land surrounding it, in what is now Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes, became estates to farm the rich alluvial soil.

Bossuet’s use of the term métairie is interesting, because most translations give the impression that the man who refused the invitation was going out to till his own soil. Bossuet—preacher most of his career to kings and aristocrats—takes the idea to a new level, portraying a man who will leave the hard physical labour to others while he takes in the profits.

New Orleans has always led a precarious existence. Its physical location makes for an excellent port, but the low elevation of the place—which only got worse as it expanded from the Vieux Carré, except for the area up near Lake Ponchartrain—made water removal a constant trial. Inadequate levees have been a part of the city’s woes from its founding. Tropical diseases took their tool as well. Moreover New France didn’t provide the proper hinterland to feed the city and port economically; it wasn’t until the Spanish took the city after the Seven Years’ War that this took place, and things really got going when New Orleans entered the US in 1803.

This strange combination of alternating wealth and poverty—and the uncertainty that goes with it—is what developed New Orleans’ carefree attitude towards life. The “Big Easy” was born in adversity, and many of its residents have contented themselves with drowning their cares in rum old fashioneds since the days when Bossuet’s patrons, the Kings of France, ruled the place.

Today, as then, we have may people who have ignored the invitation of God for eternal life and have gone off to their métairie or whatever other concern that they have. Between trying to keep that going they have immersed themselves in whatever pleasure—and that includes intoxicating substances a lot more potent that rum old fashioneds—that might come their way. But neither business nor pleasure can be taken into eternity, and both can be taken away in a hurry, as the residents of Metairie are being reminded of the hard way.

This life has a great deal of uncertainty. That uncertainty looks a lot different when we can view it from the perspective of eternal life. That’s especially important at times when your métairie—and Metairie itself—are wiped out.

For more on this eternal life, click here.

Why I’m In No Hurry to Back a Republican Presidential Candidate

We’re about a year out from the Republican National Convention, and already we’re off to the races with one debate.  Iowa and New Hampshire are already awash in visits, paid media and free media.  The heat’s on for Republicans to make up their minds about whom they plan to support.

Let’s start with the Republican part: I am one of those odd people who has roots both in the “country club” side and the “religious right” side of the GOP, although I’ve become more libertarian of late because expanding the power of the state only empowers our opponents and increases the likelihood that more people in the land of the free and home of the brave will end up in jail.  To be honest I think we’d be better off with a parliamentary system with multiple parties and coalition governments; the varieties of public opinion would be better represented in such a system.  But in a country where moving a county line is considered secular blasphemy, we’re more likely to end up with a dictatorship than something like that.

So now we must play the cards we’re dealt…we certainly have a full deck this time, it took two debates just to grill the field.  But at this point I think that most of us would be well advised to “keep our powder dry” until things move down the road a bit.

Part of that is purely practical: most of us don’t live in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or any of the early primary or caucus states.   By the time this road show gets to where we’re at, many of the people on stage now won’t be there.  It’s a tiresome business to continually switch your allegiance–especially if you’re active in the party–when people keep dropping out of the race.  I frankly think that our system of nominating candidates is stupid (having a few small states determine the course of the nominating process doesn’t strike me as good democratic process) but we’re stuck with it.

Some mention of Donald Trump, who is currently leading the pack, is in order.  As a Palm Beacher, someone who puts Jews and Gentiles in the same club isn’t to be dismissed out of hand.  His success is a combination of two things.  The first is that he’s saying things that people are thinking but cannot easily verbalise in the current climate.  The second is that he lives in a country where people are still, to some extent, aspirational, and will not dismiss the thoughts of a billionaire just because they are not.

But the political class is like a trade union: they don’t like “scab” labour coming in and doing the work that people in the “bargaining unit” are supposed to do.  So they fight Trump, hoping to get him off the political stage before he makes an impact.  They try to tell everyone he’s “unfit to be President” when in fact no one is fit to govern the ungovernable country that the United States has become.  (I don’t think the idea behind the Presidency is for it to be the centre of power in the nation, but that’s what people think).

But there’s a more profound reason why I’m no hurry to back a candidate, and that goes to a more profound problem than talking points or position papers.  The large number of candidates in the field indicates one thing: Republicans still believe in the power of the electoral process to change things substantially.  That assertion itself needs to be challenged, and it is the central problem behind any attempt to seriously change the course of the United States.

The centralisation of wealth and the growth of government (which in turn further centralises power) have shifted the dynamic in this country from a bottom-up to a top-down business.  To a large extent the whole electoral process, to say nothing of the endless “movements” we see, are window dressing to conceal the anti-democratic nature of our society.  Coupled with a society with no independent moral compass and one which has shifted from a society of owners to a society of renters (actual or de facto) the central task of our elites is to gin up public opinion for their own benefit.

Those elites, especially since the Boomers took the reins with Bill Clinton, have two central objectives in life: to get laid and to get high or drunk.  The former explains their fanatical stand on issues such as abortion and same-sex civil marriage; the latter hasn’t quite gotten as far, but it’s moving forward.  Having diffused this ethic throughout our society and generationally forward, they realise that the people in society either can’t (because of educational deficiencies) or won’t do the work for them, so they make it an imperative to import a new work force (and also a new electorate).  Thus we have an immigration issue in this country.

We also have an elite that is highly credentialist in nature.  For the most part they go to the same schools, live in the same places and believe the same things.  They may be “diverse” in some senses but in others, as Steve Taylor would say, they want to be a clone.  True to the trade union mentality, they intensely dislike the idea that the restructuring of society would dislodge them from their perch.  They’ve seen enough chaos wrought by technology and other changes and have no stomach for more of the same.

The Republicans, collectively and individually, don’t have an alternative to this.  Part of the problem is that Republican politics are driven by the aspirational ethic of the base.  They want to get to the top as it currently exists, even though the results of that are antithetical to their political and personal ideal.  But another problem is that there is no constitutional way to change the current power structure, least of all through the electoral process.  The current power holders are simply too well embedded in their position to be dislodged by one or more election cycles.  Their position is buttressed by the carte blanche that Congress gives the executive branch with almost every law it passes.  Barack Obama has taken advantage of that with his executive orders, all of the complaints about “unconstitutional” notwithstanding.

The Republicans have a candidate–Scott Walker–who built his reputation as a union buster, but there seems to be little incentive to get rid of the “trade union” that really runs this place. Many Republicans are part of the problem, or want to be part of the problem.  And until that changes, there’s no reason to be in a hurry to back a certain candidate.

And the Democrats?  Their “weak bench” problem is more than evident as Hillary slogs through yet another round of scandals and no really strong alternative emerges.  There’s a lot of speculation as to why their bench is so weak, but the reason is simple: budding Democrats see the way up through the bureaucracy, NGO’s etc., rather than the electoral process.  That leads to a weak electoral bench; the “best and the brightest” are elsewhere.

Ultimately, in this interconnected world we live in, what we’re about to find out is whether or not the “best and the brightest” are even in the United States.

The Ottoman Tales XI: They’d Rather Die Christian

This ends a series inspired (somewhat) by Noel Barber’s The Sultans.  The previous instalment is here.

If there’s one thing to be learned about studying the Ottomans, it’s that there are many strange stories to tell.  What makes up “strange” depends upon one’s frame of reference.  In his book on Palm Beach, Laurence Leamer characterised the town’s social system as madness, but for those of us who are a product of same, is there any other way to do it?  That’s a stretch, but this last tale from the Sultan’s palace is in a league of its own.

A few years before the French Revolution,  the Algerians, the pirates par excellence of the western Mediterranean, presented the Sultan with an unusual gift: a French noblewoman by the name of Aimée Dubcuq de Rivery, whom they had captured and made a slave.  She went from the convent in France to the harem in Constantinople.

That culture shock was just the beginning of a wild ride, as only the Ottomans could offer.

Her stock went up soon when she gave birth to her son Mahmud by Sultan Abdul Hamid I, who was fond of her.  The Sultan died in 1789, succeeded by his nephew Selim.  Selim and Aimée were also fond of each other, but the world they were about to be catapulted into was anything but placid.  Back home in France the Bastille was stormed in July, igniting the French Revolution.  Faced with his own problems at home with the Janissaries, Selim organised a new army (Napoleon Bonaparte volunteered as a military adviser, but was turned down, going on to bigger things while marrying Aimée’s cousin Joséphine) and Aimée promoted things French in old Constantinople.  But Napoleon invaded Ottoman Egypt, forcing Selim to turn to the British.

The Janissaries, true to form, overthrew Selim in 1807, putting Mahmud’s half-brother Mustafa on the throne.  Bairactar Pasha revolted, and the result was that Aimée’s son Mahmud ended up as Sultan.  The Janissaries extracted concessions out of Mahmud but mother and son were secure for the moment.

With his mother’s help, Mahmud turned out to be a reformer, bringing in Western (mostly French) institutions and people in trying to modernise the country.  In the meanwhile there were successes and failures.  Mahmud, with the help of a Turkish officer named “Black Hell” managed to massacre the Janissaries and end their meddling ways.  On the other hand the Russians continued to nibble away at Ottoman territory, and Greece won its independence.

But the time came for Aimée to leave this life.  She had lived at the power centre of Islam and exercised that power when she could as the consort, friend and mother of the Caliph, the leader of Islam (well, Sunni Islam at least).  But with life slipping away, in spite of all of the Islam surrounding her (or perhaps because of it) she demanded of her son that she be given Christian last rites and die in the grace of Jesus Christ.

The highest Muslim he was, but Mahmud acceded to his mother’s request. He summoned a Greek Orthodox priest, who came to the palace and, in Mahmud’s presence he heard her confession, gave her absolution, and died in the Christian faith she was baptised in.

Today, in many of the same territories that Mahmud ruled over, we see Christians confess Jesus Christ and be martyred for that confession.  The circumstances of their passing are far different than Aimée’s, and the new caliph is not in the same league as the Ottoman sultans.  But the idea is the same: when the time for eternity comes, the real Christian wants to enter into the presence of his or her Lord and Saviour.

And this will fulfil my earnest expectation and hope that I shall have no cause for shame, but that, with unfailing courage, now as hitherto, Christ will be honored in my body, whether by my life or by my death, For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. But what if the life here in the body–if this brings me fruit from my labors? Then which to choose I cannot tell! I am sorely perplexed either way! My own desire is to depart and be with Christ, for this would be far better. But, for your sakes, it may be more needful that I should still remain here in the body. (Philippians 1:20-24)

So what about you?  Where (and with whom) do you plan to step into eternity when the time comes?

If you don’t know, or want to do better, click here

Sailing the Last Voyage with Newton and Pascal

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