Friday, December 26, 2008

Sacrificial 'Ram': "The Wrestler" as the Story of Job

"He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed." Isaiah 53:5

The new movie by Darren Aronofsky, "The Wrestler" is the beautiful and terrible story of an aging professional wrestler, Randy 'The Ram', played by Mickey Rourke. The hard-bodied and oafish Randy finds no comfort in the world outside the ring. He lives in a dilapidated trailer, has an estranged daughter and an demeaning side job at a local grocery store. He lives for the weekends when he can wrestler.

The movie is really a modern story of Job.

Of course, Randy doesn't fit the traditional Job-archetype. Through the movie you realize he is derelict, a delinquent father, a drug-user. He is not pious in any conventional sense.

Yet, he is unshakable in his faith. Not for God, but for wrestling.

The heart-aches, the heart-attacks, the poverty, and the alienation from friends and family are all endured. He is unflinching faithful to the religion and ritual of wrestling. And for his fidelity, what felicities does it bring him? None. His age relegates him to minor contests, his steroid use leaves him deformed, while still always true to profession.

During the movie, he begins a relationship with a stripper named Cassidy, played by the Marisa Tomei. She is the parallel to Randy; both live off the exploits of their flesh, and they are past the peak of their prime. While talking to Randy at a club she jokingly says, "You were pierced for our transgressions, you were crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace is upon you. You are the sacrificial Ram." And he is. You can almost here Randy 'the Ram' saying to the gods of Wrestling, 'Forgive them - the fans - for they know not what they make me do."

Also, see this article of "Job as Wrestler". Art immitating the Bible, and Bible immitating Art.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Spiritual, Non Religious?

I was reading about F. Schleiermacher today. One of the few things we have in common is our discontent for what the Enlightenment did to theology.

A passage reminded me of the banal position of many in this generation, that of being 'spiritual, but not religious.'

He writes, "The emptiness of a rational religion consists in the fact that it is not a real religion at all, but an eclectic collection of dead fragments. It has not grown from a living intuition, but has been distilled from a dying form. It is attractive to many because, lacking any positive character, it offends no one. It creates discussions groups, but not churches; it rests on thought and not on feelings. It is not wonder that it appeals widely to the religiously indifferent, for it is an abstraction, and thus it stirs up on of the strong feelings aroused by concrete realities. Who can hate an abstraction? But then again, who can love one? (Makers of the Modern Theological Mind: Friedrich Schleiermacher, by C. W. Christian).

It makes me wonder... how many of our churches are already mere 'discussion groups.'

Monday, December 1, 2008

Cosmic Evangelizing: The Need to Shoot Bibles Into Space?

After reading Sagan's Gifford Lectures, I turned anxiously to his novel Contact. The vastness of space and the seemingly inexhaustible amount material that comprise the comets, moons, planets, stars and black holes leaves one reeling. It is even a bit scary.

My good friend, The Monad, responded to my last post by writing,
"The question of what salvation would be on other planets is mind-boggling. I suppose if there is evil on those other planets than salvation is necessary...can Satan exercise dominion on other planets? What's to say that he can't? Then the question becomes one of soteriology. How does Jesus save? Is there something about the way in which Jesus brings salvation that is unique to this planet? We have no way of knowing."

The question indeed is of soteriology. If there is tripartite (mind, body and soul) life that is shackled by sin on other planets how are they saved? Are they saved?

My other good friend sees orthodox soteriology as being not only an anthropological but a cosmological panacea.
"The problems of finite-thinking have come about because of the belief that Christ's redemption ONLY applies to humans and not to rest of creation as well. Once we understand salvation as applying not to the salvation of souls but to the promise of the 'new heavens and new earth', the question about life on other planets and how they fit into the overall scheme of things, really is a moot point."

This answer isn't satisfying.

The value of reading Sagan is that we are challenged to strongly critique the entire anthrocentric enterprise. Christianity, wrongly or rightly, has a soteriology that is completely enthralled with the notion of humanity. Early Church history and controversy deal almost exclusively on the communicatio idiomatum.

Patristic thought may concede that Christ vindicated creation (universe and all), but they will stubbornly hold that specific salvation of humanity was only possible through the Incarnation.

St. Athanasius famously states, "He was made man, so that we might be made gods."

Poignantly, the soteriological question for St. Anselm was, Cur Deus Homo? or Why Did God Become Man?

Perhaps most provocative is St. Gregory of Nazianzus claim, "That which was not assumed is not healed; but that which is united to God is saved."

Extraterrestrials (a name for that itself is thoroughly anthropocentric) are not going to have a human nature. In that case, will their unassumed nature not be healed? If they are in every way like humans, except for having three eyes instead of two, will that third eye not be saved?

My friend writes,
"Sure the life, death and resurrection of the incarnate God happened in a remote corner of the universe, but that shouldn't limit its cosmic implications."

Well, of course it does!
The Gospel is the Good News. Thus, any good soteriology should be able to pass the scrutiny of the most important question for pastors: Is it preachable?
This is only conjecture, but Christian soteriology will probably not stir the soul of E.T.

On the other hand, if my good friend is right: God has vindicated all creation and creatures and promised a 'new heaven and earth' (or earths?). Then it seems that Evangelicals need to set new priorities. Forget Asia and Africa - there are as many as a billion worlds that need to know that God through Christ has given them new life! Evangelicals should become the biggest supporters of NASA, and begin a program to shoot bibles into space.

I'm not joking.

If one is convinced that Christ has undeniably, solely saved the fate of the entire cosmos one ought to feel an uncontrollable desire to rush headlong into the vast blackness of space only to hope to come across intelligent life and proclaim, "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!"

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Serious Cosmological Theology

Today I was reading the transcript of Carl Sagan's Gifford Lectures in the book, "The Varieties of Scientific Experience.” I think Sagan is thoroughly modern, eschewing all notion of faith or belief. However, he helpfully critiques the narrowness of Western-religion's cosmology.

He writes, "The number of external galaxies beyond the Milky Way is at least in the thousands of millions and perhaps in the hundreds of thousands of millions each of which contains a number of stars more or less comparable to that in our own galaxy. So if you multiple out how many stars that means, it is some number - let's see, ten to the... It's something like a one followed by twenty-three zeros, of which our Sun is but one. It is a useful calibration of our place in the universe. And this vast number of worlds, the enormous scale of the universe, in my view has been taken into account, even superficially, in virtually no religions and especially no Western religions." (27).

The immensity of the universe begs the question of the uniqueness of life. And if life is rare, but not unique, what of the arc of the salvific history espoused by Christianity? Does all life inevitably trace this story line? Thomas Paine wrote of this question, "From whence, then, could arise the solitary and strange conceit that the Almighty, who has millions of worlds equally dependent on his protection, should quit the care of all the rest, and come to die in our world because, they say, one man and one woman ate an apple? And on the other hand, are we to suppose that every world in the boundless creation has an Eve, an apple, a serpent and a redeemer?" While Process Theology has enumerable and intractable problems, the tradition has at least taken cosmology seriously. Michael Lodahl, and, of course, Alfred North Whitehead, come to mind. Though, this tradition then usually jettisons the salvific history, for an endless processing history, which seems to reform the very historic Christianity into just another universal (read, ahistoric) religion. In comparison, Radial Orthodoxy has not shown that they are open to accepting modern science. The reunification of faith and reason stops short of evolution. This is a strange demarcation line considering the Catholic Church, which strongly influences R.O., has long held that evolutions and faith are fully commensurable. More broadly, C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy seems to suggest that the chapters of history play out on all planets that inhabit life, and God, rather than abandoning all others for the sake of one, provides His Providence and, ultimately, Salvation, to all.

Perhaps more concerning is the finite-tenancy we have on the Earth. Sagan writes, "Some 5, 6, or 7 billion years from now, the Sun will become a red giant star and will engulf the orbits of Mercury and Venus and probably the Earth. The Earth then would be inside the Sun and some of the problems that face us on this particular day will appear, by comparison, modest. On the other hand, since it is 5,000 or more million years away, it is not our most pressing problem. But it is something to bear in mind. It has theological implications." (20).
Indeed, theological implications abound.

While addressing the important theological questions of ecological-stewardship, some attention should be given to cosmological-theology in general, and cosmological-stewardship in specific. More broadly, issues of eschatology, economy, and revelation all garner relevance in this endeavor.

To end, Sagan has some helpful thoughts: “In fact, a general problem with much of Western theology in my view is that the god portrayed is too small. It is a god of a tiny world and not a god of a galaxy, much les of a universe.” Here Sagan and I are in complete agreement. He continues, “I don’t propose that it is a virtue to revel in our limitations. But it’s important to understand how much we do not know. There is an enormous amount we do not know; there is a tiny amount that we do.” (30). Christians may respond that what they do know is that God’s creation is good – no matter how vast or how dark, or how empty it might seem to be.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Seminary as Univerisity and Univirsity

Somehow my work has revolved around seminary education itself. In a sense, I have been dealing with meta-theological education. The nature, structure and desired end of seminary education are important questions rather than codified answers. The root of seminary comes from the Latin, sēminārium or even more simply sēmin, or seed. Thus, seminary is a place of planting and tending to seeds. So, seminary cultivates theological acumen, pastoral disposition and bold leadership. The etymology also reminds one of the many agrarian references in the Bible: the lilies of field, the tares among the wheat, the day laborers and on and on.

The construction of the modern university also intrigues me. This is especially the case considering the work of John Milbank. His interest to commence a Christian Enlightenment (making theology the master discourse, precisely because none can master it) is a reconstruction of the university. The project would be to invaginate the university. Instead of outward radiating, the myriad discourses would be constituted and affirmed inwardly by theology. An academic wheel, where the theology would be the center hub and the other sciences would act as spokes. This was the case not so long ago in the 17th century when theology was said to be the “queen of the sciences.” In 1810, Berlin University was founded and was to become the model for the modern university. Vociferous discussion took place as to if theology ought to be part of the new university structure. Friedrich Schleiermacher argued successfully for its inclusion, but theology was relegated as merely one discourse among many, and later, damnably, its whole dissected into discrete parts (Bible as literature, Theology as philosophy, Christian history as history, and Practical ministry and psychology and sociology).

The German, early 20th century model for the university became the indispensible archetype. The root of university is denoted in its project and structure. First, it comes from the word “universe” which derives from Latin. It consists of two words: uni (one) and vertere (to turn). Thus, the “universe” or the “university” is enveloping (or turning) everything into one thing. Yet, in trying to speak of everything usually says nothing.

So, let me suggest an idea. Let me play a language game. Instead of the seminary aspiring to become the university, let it rather be both a univerisity and a univirsity.

The univerisity is not concerned with everything, but rather concerned with a specific something that signifies everything. Thus, theological education centers around uni (one) veritas (truth). This truth is singular, particular and the master signifier. It is the master signifier because it is the first sign: the Word, Christ Jesus, the only Son of God. This particular truth initiates, situates and norms any further construction in theological education. The univerisity (one-truth) becomes a pronouncement as to the institutions’ originating genesis, productive synthesis, and culminating thesis. The fidelity to the Veritas becomes then the measure of the mission.

The seminary should also be the univirsity. In this sense, the name proclaims the Incarnation. That Jesus of Nazareth was Christ. Thus, it is the vir or, in Latin, the man, that creates this truth. This uni (one) vir (man) is then the entire construction of theological education, because He is the word (logos) of God (Theos). Thus, Robert Banks’ definition for theological education, “To Know God in Christ and to help others know God in Christ” is an appropriate one. Christ then properly becomes the theological and educative keystone.

In the 19th century, Christian theology was relegated to being just another subject among multiple subjects in the modern university. Since then, it has only continued to decline in importance and has been forcibly moved farther from the center, literally 'marginalized' to the periphery. DePaul University, the largest Catholic school in the country, doesn’t have a theology department, but only a “Religious Studies” department. Neither does Northwestern University, founded by Methodists and until the 1920’s were the ‘Fighting Methodist.” Christian theology isn’t even offered a special place among the varied world religions, even at universities that were founded as Christian institutions. So, what theological education needs is not a transformed university – as this project must be abandoned – but for seminaries and those few remaining theological departments to be univerisities and univirsities. Theological education must engage not with everything rolled into one, but more simply with one Truth and one Man found in the person of Christ.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Economic Blogging - The Bailout is about Main St. not Wall St.

Two things: 1) The bailout is necessary 2) the bailout is about main street not Wall St.

Ok, so I stole the second one from Obama, but it makes the point well. This bailout is about the people - normal Americans.

To use an analogy, this financial problem is akin to cholesterol. You never knew you had a problem, until you had a heart attack.

Of course, right now business aren't closing. Wall St. looks flappable, but when is it not? No, the problem is credit, and credit is measured in the long, not the short. Giant financial institutions easily can look a bit evil and completely corrupt... well, that is, until you need to buy a house, a car or send a son or daughter off to college.

Credit is the life blood, and as a rule, institutions don't extend lines of credit when they are weighed down in debt. Unfortunately this is debt that won't be repayed or worse won't be repayed AND are overvalued.

So the bailout price is THE problem... the government can't pay too much because then you reward bad decisions (and the government will have less likelihood in turning a profit on this whole mess), however you also can't pay too little because then the institutions won't be able begin lending again (which is the whole point of this enterprise).

This is not about bailing out Wall St. I read some quote (from a Republican Congressman, no less) who said, "The plan does nothing for those millions of distressed homeowners." Well, he's right, it's not about them either. It's about credit. It's about making sure that when you get fired, and rehired two towns away you can go the bank and get a loan, and the interested buyer of your house can get a loan. It is about making sure that the young business start-up can get a loan so that in ten years they can make the new technological breakthrough that makes Microsoft look like Atari. Credit is the spinach of the US economy.

Every week thousands of jobs need to be created in this country just to keep the unemployment rate stable. Those jobs come from growth in businesses and new businesses. They require credit. We might not see it now, but let a few more of these giant firms fall, continue to let the credit market tighten and begin to watch unemployment soar, watch the dollar plummet (which for exporter is a good thing, but we're in import country, so you do the math), and let the hard times roll.

And if you didn't hear: Yes, Washington Mutual (lovingly, WaMu) was seized yesterday by federal treasury officials. It was the LARGEST FEDERAL SEIZURE IN HISTORY. The story wasn't even the headline for the New York Times today. This financial situation is very serious, and like cholesterol, if not checked, will entail equally as serious consequences.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Political Blogging - Palin as Politik

The Chicago Tribune ran an op-ed on Biden Obama's VP choice under the title, "Obama Choice: Good Government, Bad Politics."

The news was awash in one statement: Obama was shoring up his foreign policy credentials. The choice signaled an Obama White House that was committed to responsible governance, but it was bad politics. Biden doesn't pick up a state. Biden doesn't motivate a certain voting block. Biden is good government and bad politics.

If there was ever a yin to one's yang, an up to one's down, an antithetical to Obama's thesis of good governance, it was McCain's choice of Sarah Palin. It was in good politics, but bad governance.

Recent polls are showing that the American people across the political spectrum see McCain's choice in such light.

The NewYorkTimes/CBS News Poll was released on September 18. One of the questions read: "Do you think Barack Obama chose Joe Biden as his running mate more because he is well qualified for the job or more because he thinks Joe Biden would help him win the election?

57% believed it was because he was "well qualified", 31% believed he was chosen because he would "help win" the election. The remaining polled thought it was either for both reasons, or had no opinion.

The same question was posed to McCain concerning the choice of Sarah Palin for the VP spot. Only 17% thought she was chosen because she was "well qualified", while 75% believed she was nominated because she would help him win.

Palin is mere politik.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Political Blogging - Intrade Helps Quell Fears

The past couple weeks after the Republican National Convention have been filled with premonition and pandemonium. Governor Sarah Palin's meteoric rise to national stardom has left many liberals aghast at the possibility that while 'change' trumps experience, it apparently doesn't trump 'inexperience.'

Overnight the media began reporting that soccer and Wal-mart moms could finally relate to a politician, and found Palin to be "refreshing." This, I believe, highlights the two mutually exclusive myths of the United States. These two myths, which I have written about before, are espoused in individualism and egalitarianism. Palin has captured the nearly impossible middle-ground between the two. Perhaps, I will write more about Palin and the two myths later, but this post is merely to be a politically cathartic read. It is to remind us that voting totals do not elect Presidents; the Electoral College does (which Democrats so painfully learned about in 2000).

Recently, national polls have steadily moved toward a dead heat. Obama and McCain seemed poised toward yet another election that is 'too close to call.'

And yet, I don't think we need to worry. Check out The online predictions market has a new US 2008 presidential election tool. The current political map has Obama winning 273 to McCain's 265.

A slim margin to be sure, but the question is what state does McCain, can McCain, swing? RealClearPolitics currently names 11 swings states. Yet while all these states by RCP definition have polls that are within 4% difference, most these states are already considered “locked” by intrade.

For example: In Pennsylvania Obama garners 47.3% while McCain holds 45.7% support in the polls, with a difference of 1.6% in Obama's favor. Yet, on intrade Pennsylvania is being predicated as going for Obama with 68% certainty.

Also, for example, Florida is nearly a swing state. The average polling numbers to date are McCain 49.4%, Obama 44.4%. Yet intrade predicts McCain will carry the state with 70% certainty.

So what are the real swing states?
Anything that intrade has at 60% or lower.

The red states that intrade has at 60% or below are:

The blue state that intrade has at 60 or below are:
New Hampshire(4)

What does all this mean? There are more and bigger leaning-red swing states. Democrats: rest easy. (There will be canvassing to do soon).

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hermeneutics: Alice, the "Final" Four and Barth

I am taking a requisite class in Hermeneutics, and I find myself surprisingly happy with the initial readings.

The class has opened with a delightful little read from David Jasper, "A Short Introduction to Hermeneutics". The book is really just a survey of, primarily, biblical hermeneutics, but branches to the issue writ large when appropriate. Jasper makes a persuasive case that hermeneutic shifts are leading indicators of theological shifts throughout Christian history.

During the work he betrays a predisposition to the reformation, and in doing so, he also given short shrift to Aquinas and Scholasticism. This would be my only grievance.

Yet, what was particularly appealing were the poems and excerpts that were craftily plotted throughout the chapters. Below I have recounted a few:

"Then you should say what you mean," the March Hare went on. "I do," Alice hastily replied; "at least - at least I mean what I say - that's the same thing, you know." "Not the same thing a bit!" said the Hatter. "Why you might just as well say that 'I see what I eat' is the same thing as 'I eat what I see!"
-Alice in Wonderland

"The letter shows us what God and our fathers did;
The allegory shows us where out faith is hid;
The moral meaning gives us rules of daily life;
The anagogy shows us where we end our strife." - Nicholas of Lyra

"Both read the Bible day and night,
But thou read'st black where I read white." -William Blake

The last comes from Barth's "Commentary on the Letter to the Romans"
"The Historical-critical Method of Biblical investigation has its rightful place: It is concerned with the preparation of the intelligence - and this can never be superfluous. But, were I driven to choose between it and the venerable doctrine of Inspiration, I should without hesitation adopt the latter, which has a broader, deeper, more important justification. The doctrine of Inspiration is concerned with the labour of apprehending, without which not technical equipment, how ever complete, is of any use whatever."

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Kant's Going to Hell for Proving God

A devilishly precocious and beautiful friend of mine recently shamed me into reading Mikhail Bulgakov's "The Master and Margarita". It's a bright-colored tragedy, where wit is often a fatal character flaw.

Yet best of all, it claims that Kant is in hell for proving God.

"But, may I ask," resumed the guest [the devil] from abroad after a moment's troubled reflection, "what do you make of the proofs of God's existence, of which, as you know, there are five?"

"Alas!" answered Berlioz regretfully, "all of those proofs are worthless, and mankind has long since consigned them to oblivion. Surely you would agree that reason dictates that there can be no proof of God's existence."

"Bravo!" exclaimed the foreigner [the devil], "Bravo! You've said just what that restless old sage Immanuel said about this very same subject. But here's the rub: he completely demolished all five proofs, and then, in a seeming display of self-mockery, he constructed a sixth proof all his own!"

"Kant's proof," retorted the educated editor with a faint smile, "is also unconvincing. No wonder Schiller said that only slaves could be satisfied with Kant's arguments on this subject, while Strauss simple laughed at his proof."

As Beriloz was speaking, he thought, "But, who is he anyway? And how come his Russian is so good?"

"This guy Kant ought to get three years in Solovki for proofs like that," blurted out Ivan Nikolayevich, completely unexpectedly.

"Ivan!" whispered Berlioz in consternation.

"Precisely so, precisely so," he cried [the devil], and his green left eye, which was focused on Berlioz, sparkled. "That's the very place for him! As I told him that time at breakfast, 'As you please, professor, but you've contrived something totally absurd! True, it may be clever, but it's totally incomprehensible. People will laugh at you.'"

Berlioz's eyes popped. "At breakfast... with Kant? What kind non-sense is this?" he thought.

"However," continued the foreigner [the devil], unflustered by Berlioz's astonishment and turning to the poet, "he can't be sent to Solovki for the simple reason that for more than a hundred years now he's been somewhere far more remote than Solovki, and there's no way of getting him out of there, I assure you!"

So be wary Alvin Platinga, and all those fancying themselves able to proof God's existence positively.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Fides et Ratio: Part I

The questions boils down to this: Is all belief mere opinion? Even more basic: Is there Truth?

It would be telling to see how Catholic and Protestant laity would answer the question. In a secular society that has only two holy words - Ego and Tolerance - 'Yes' is an incredulous and an audacious answer. Such an answer is blasphemy agaist the two holy words.

Truth for the Ego is enveloped and limited to the experiential - there is nothing past the phenomenological. Or in another way: there can be no metaphysics because there is nothing 'beyond' or 'past' physics. Personal experience is the irrefutable grounds of knowledge. So, meaning is made, not destined.

Tolerance is the natural disposition that follows from such a construction of Truth. It is atomized to the point that it is individualized. Universalism is only in particularity. The vicissitudes of life and myriad of cultures necessarily force each person to live a unique life. As each experience is different than so too is each conception of Truth. Overtime, people accept that Truth is nothing more than personal experience. Truth is amber-hardened opinion. The great motto of society becomes: We can agree to disagree.

This current malaise of secular culture that sees Truth as either dangerous, irrelevant, or relative is something to be regretted.

Though not all see Truth in such sinister and cynical ways. Radical Orthodoxy and Catholicism are both more than happy to say with conviction that the Word is Truth.

Pope John Paul II's Encyclical, "Fides and Ratio" (Faith and Reason) tried so show how the theological tradition of Scholasticism can correct current Christian relativism and cynicism. It opens with a beautiful line:
Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:8-9; 63:2-3; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2).

In my next post I'll discuss how the encyclical and Aquinas can help re-invigorate Christian belief, evangelism, and community, and most importantly move the Body of Christ past the debilitating stance that Truth is relative.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Need for God

"Now - here is my secret:
I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt that I shall every achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God - that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond able to love."
-From Douglas Coupland's, Life after God

"Christianity is a crutch." That's what I used to say to other students in high school. I had a theological chip on my shoulder, and I wanted the world to know it. However, looking back, I see that to level such a claim is both entirely true, and completely fallacious. It just depends on where one is standing. Douglas Coupland's little paragraph gets at the ambiguity, and actually illumines quite well why there is a two fold need for God (and why its not a crutch, in one sense).

Robert Penn Warren wrote in All the King's Men, "Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something!" And indeed, there is always dirt to be found under the fingers. There is always something. After every absolution there is a new indulgence. To recognize sin must come after first recognizing God. Its a theological driven vision of the world. The path to a pre-existing morality that circumscribes theological particularity is a road toward Kantian ethics. Such a deontic ethic not snuffed out from the beginning, builds into its own self-validating perspective. Sin doesn't prove God. Sin is known only as Sin because of Scripture. In God's goodness He gave grace. To call grace a 'crutch' seems almost vulgar, but visually intuitive. Here, grace is not some helpful third-leg, but a life-source. Grace doesn't help, it saves.

The other reason people need God is because they don't have God. This was what Douglas Coupland meant when he wrote, "I need God." The book was entitled, "Life after God." But there is no such thing. There is no Life after God.

Bertrand Russel wrote a book entitled, "Why I'm Not a Christian." It's not a very good book. Its a collection of essays, and he basically levels one criticism on Christianity: not the divinity of Christ, not the cannibalistic notion of Eucharist, nor the misanthropic stance of being martyred for a cause. No, he thought that basically, Christianity was a philosophical crutch. Russel thought that God resembled a benevolent father-figure far too much for there to be any good to come of it. What he should have said was that he had read Feuerbach, and had agreed with him.

It reminds me of T.S. Eliot who, from his poem The Waste Land, wrote, "The world ends like this, not with a bang, but with a whimper." The man who was an ardent atheist most of his life found God in the end. He probably needed God, because he knew there was no life after God.

So Christianity is a crutch. Either because someone knows God, and knows sin is real, and needs grace from God. Or because someone does not know God - and knows there is no life after God - and for that reason needs God.

There is a popular little poem that has been going around in the past few years, it troubles me a bit.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

In college, back in my youthful naivete that I someday, somewhere misplaced I did feel that way: My deepest doubt was that I was powerful beyond measure. Not anymore.

So, acknowledging sin and doubt is not a goal, but it can be a felix culpa. At times our legs will ache, we will groan from pain. We will want a crutch, and God will be there.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Need for Scholasticism

A new book asks, and is titled, "Does science make belief in God obsolete?" The series is comprised of 13 short essays published by the John Templeton Foundation. I read of this originally from the The Times, "Can Science and God Ever Get Along?" by Tim Hames.

The series promotes the supposition that faith and reason are inversely related subjects. Of the contributors only one contends that the relationships between faith and reason is something other than antagonistic, or at the very least divorced.

Certainly, I would rather have Christopher Hitchens crass answer, "No, but is should." Than the more dangerous excursus made by Jerome Groopman (a Harvard professor of Medicine). Groopman writes, "As a physician and researcher, I employ science to decipher human biology and treat disease. As a person of faith, I look to my religious tradition for the touchstones of a moral life."

He continues, "So, the question of obsolescence is miscast, because science and faith should exist in separate realms."

This is the folly of Christianity today.

If faith is simply another 'realm' of ones life, if it is merely another book section in Barnes and Noble, if it is only a moral hobby, than it will surely and sorely be misunderstood.

None of the religious leaders took to task the underlying supposition. That faith is not some mere and somewhat queer "feeling" that rests within someone. Though a few made overtures of how morality (and thus, perhaps God) may influence how we implement science, no one argued how reason is a necessary part of faith.

Of all the writers the most well spoken was Keith Miller, a professor at Brown University. He writes, “The categorical mistake of the atheist is to assume that God is natural and therefore within the realm of science to investigate and test. But God is not and cannot be part of nature. He is the answer to existence, not part of existence itself.”

That morality and science are distinct and separate is myth of modernity and the university. It makes for a Procrustean either/or that need not be. There is a need for Scholasticism. The Augustinian phrase, "faith seeking understanding" needs reasserted by the Church while at the same time coupled by the academe's adoptions of the phrase, "understanding seeking faith." There is a middle ground that is larger than the two margins.

So, my answer? Does science make belief in God obsolete? No, and it shouldn't.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Political Blogging - A Presumptive Nominee; Not So Presumptive

I've never been so proud of being an Hooiser.

Two weeks ago I said that North Carolina would be the coup de grace for the Clinton campaign. Not so (though North Carolina did go for Obama by 14 points). Rather, it was Indiana, and the Obama strong-holds of Marion and Lake counties.

While writing, the Gary votes are being counted and reported, and the 20,000 vote lead Clinton holds to is slowly eroding. Monroe county absentee votes (mostly from faculty and students of IU) are still not reported, but will certainly break strong for Obama.

It has been reported that Clinton has cancelled all morning show interviews, and all other public appearances for tomorrow.

The Clinton campaign sent out a fund-raising email in the past hour, but didn't ask for more funds.

The show is over.
Tomorrow expect media spin that praises Obama's comeback, and at least 12 super-delegates pledging for Obama. The stories will be not if, but when Hillary drops out, and who will Obama choose for the V-P spot.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Political Blogging - The Hillary I Would Have Voted For

In the next week I will return to topics concerning Rousseau and the movie Into the Wild, but right now I want to mention something positive about the Clinton campaign.

As I recently wrote my first negative post about Obama, I now am writing my first positive post on Clinton. In the past months Clinton has couched herself as the edgy, policy-egghead that cares more about winning than being right. Her campaign has continually taken the low-road (see the New York Times article), and unfairly and unduly polarized and racialized the nomination process. That said, I was quite moved - even inspired - by the recent ad Clinton has running in North Carolina. The ad features Maya Angelo reading an endorsement for Clinton, see it here.

The message is a shift from here criticism of Obama's 'Yes we can' to her pragmatic rejoinder, 'how we can.' This message offers no policy initiative, no 10-step solution; it offers, 'just words.' It is a brilliant ad. Yet, it is unlikely to assuage black voters to the extent that they will vote for Clinton, but who knows? Everytime Clinton has shown her emotional side it has followed with fanfare (and, too, some incredulity by pundits). Whatever follows, all loyal Democrats are praying that Clinton's campaign (and Obama's) have more ads that look like these, and less like the 3:00a.m. ads.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Political Blogging - What Tide Change?

The MSM have to make stories dramatic, no matter how mundane they may actually be. Clinton's primary win on Tuesday has been cast by the media as an extraordinary story of a candidate who has been beaten, bruised and broken, but still won over the Keystone State. How heroic.

And yet, the possibility - the sensibility - of the Clinton campaign continues to lose credibility. Instead of the tidal change of support she purports, national polls show, for her, only erosion.

The link is to the Real Clear Politics tracking chart of the national averages for the Democratic race.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Pope, Politics and Immigration

The Pope's visit highlighted how different the secular and sacred are. The media seemed honestly perplexed at how to cover the event, most seemed to relegate the visit to the political (because the assertion of the self is always a will-to- power, right?). Some articles contrasted his dogmatic positions with his personal humility (as if piety and orthodoxy are inherently antithetical). Most of the news stories just didn't understand what to think of someone taking their faith seriously.

Of the offenders, none were worse than Lou Dobbs and Congressman Tancredo. An opinioned response in the Wall Street Journal, today, brilliantly illuminated and allayed the controversy:

That 'Insulting' Pope'
It's not everyday that a backbencher in Congress draws international attention by insulting the spiritual leader of one in four Americans. But Colorado Republican Tom Tancredo, the anti-immigrant obsessive, wasn't about to miss his moment.

Pope Benedict XVI called on U.S. bishops last week to "continue to welcome the immigrants who join your ranks today, to share their joys and hope, to support them in their sorrows and trials and to help them flourish in their new home."

Mr. Tancredo's response was to accuse the pontiff of "faith-based marketing" and claim that "the pope's immigration comments may have less to do with spreading the gospel than they do about recruiting new members of the church." Mr. Tancredo - who sports T-shirt that read "America Is Full" - also cited a March 1 Wall Street Journal editorial to support this argument. The editorial concerned a new Pew servery on religion in the U.S. and noted that in recent decades the Catholic Church has been losing members among the native born but gaining them among the foreign born. "We'd encourage our friends on the right who want to limit immigration to consider the health of the Church," we wrote.

Our point, evidently missed by the Congressman, was that the U.S. Catholic Church has traditionally been an immigrant church, helping to settle and assimilated generations of Irish, Polish and Italian newcomers. The pope made a similar argument during his visit last week in separate remarks to U.S. educators. "Countless dedicated religious sisters, brothers, and priest together with selfless parents have, through Catholic schools, helped generations of immigrants to rise from poverty and take their place in mainstream society," he said.

To Lou Dobbs, another Tancredo-like compulsive, all of this amounted to the pope, "insulting our country." The CNN anchor said, "I really don't appreciate the bad manners of a guest to tell me in this country and my fellow citizens what to do." You know the restrictionists have gone head-first into the fever swamps when they denounce a Christian religious leaders for sounding like a Christian.
The pope welcomes immigrants because he's Catholic, not because they are. He isn't "marketing" his faith. He practicing it.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Political Blogging - Coup de Grace

Unless Obama wins Pennsylvania, Clinton will not concede the race tomorrow. With all the money, support, and effort she has put into the Keystone-state, she's not going to win a battle and then turn around and surrender the war (that is without losing political face). She will either wait until Indiana, or more likely North Carolina.

Hillary Clinton wins Pennsylvania with less than a 15% margin. Thus, the blow-out necessary remains elusive, but the win is still present.

The Indiana primary provides a split ticket with a win for either campaign of less than 10%. Either way, Clinton remains in the race.

North Carolina is the coup de grace. It is the final and unforgettable bludgeon to the Clinton campaign, signaling the unstoppable force of Obama's victories.

Between PA and NC she begins to soften her tone, and strengthen her message that it is only Democrats that can turn this country around; on the night of the NC election she concedes early and presents herself as a loyal Democrat who has always seen McCain as the inevitable downfall of the US, and Obama as the only possible salve for such present despair.

Tomorrow: watch Obama lose, but only by small margins.
Clinton knows the final death blow is to come, but wait until the coup de grace: North Carolina; 65/35. Then she concedes. Convention wars be damned.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Political Blogging: Why I Want an Elitist for President

America essentially paints itself in two opposing characteristic hues; equality and elitism. The two poles of American achievement call everyone to simultaneously be like everyone else, and to be the very best. This schizophrenia reaches fever pitch in presidential candidates; they are to be both your bar-buddy and political-science professor. They are to wax eloquently of the policy nuances that pervade tax-codes and foreign affairs, while also jovially discussing with blue-collar workers the chance the Cubs have of winning their first World Series in a hundred years.

We hold our presidential hopefuls to this paradoxical task because it begins with a fallacy. All children are cajoled to believe that they too can be President someday. What an awful lie. A society seemingly built on hyper-individualism and the spirit of manifest destiny also holds within it a deep sense of egalitarianism. Succinctly: "You can be whatever you want to be." This truth seems so palpable in childhood; one need only extend ones hands and grasp their desires. Though as the days linger on, we find our choices more confined, our dreams more elusive. Where we once dreamed of living abroad, we now settled for a vacation across state lines, and where once we hoped to become a lawyer we settle on being a paralegal. What makes this lifestyles so seemingly despicable is that it is so desperate from what was promised. This, to be sure, is the resounding critique of Ayn Rand's objectivism (and the myriad of self-help, and get-rich books); namely, that we are not autonomous, individualized creators of our own future. The human will cannot fashion itself into its own wanting; we are constrained by a myriad of factors in such endeavors. We both love and loath the idea that we are very nearly like everyone else.

And yet, there are those seemingly rare cases of stardom and celebrity: those intractably charismatic personalities and those captivating and enigmatic minds that seize our attention. Are not these elites? Without falling into idolatry, there is something admirable in recognizing greatness.

The critique against Barack Obama is that he is an elitist. The connotation being that he looks despairingly down upon blue-collar workers and rural America. Though such an outlook ought to be rejected, it is most likely not truly imbued in Obama. However, more importantly, Obama, Clinton, and McCain all (and rightfully) ought to embrace the denotation of being elitists; that they exceptional citizens, specially suited for the most powerful political position in the world. They are the elites of American society.

However, such overtures begin reactions to those allergic to non-egalitarian sentiments. Again, we want presidents who are an impossible both/and. Of course, Obama is an elitist, but so are Clinton and McCain. There exceptionalism is the very reason for their political success. They are exceptional, because they are exceptions. We are asking presidential candidates to do the impossible: to be the exceptional and concomitantly exceptionaless. I want a president who is an elitist, I want Obama.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Political Blogging: We are not the ones we have been waiting for....

This blog will have done something it has yet to do: criticize Obama. Being a farm-hand and corn-reared son of Indiana you might think it begins with a little comment that has caused a maelstrom, but you'd wrong. Obama comments, though overly drawn and generalized, have a powerful resonance with me. Much of 'small-town' America has social mores that often remind me of the movie 'The Last Picture Show.' Religious zealotry and zionphobia scar many of those who live in rural, and often forgotten, America.

No, what is of concern is one line: "We are the ones we have been waiting for..."

The line by Obama (and was first the title of an Alice Walker book, and picked up by Jim Wallis' book "God's Politics") is featured prominently at the end of a new music video, "We Are the Ones."

Watch it here.

The video, powerful to be sure, changes nothing in my belief that Obama can assuage much of the political contentions that have created a riff in the American landscape, and also can begin to allay the world of its concerns of the United States. However, for all of this, Obama is not, nor are we, the Hope, but simply a hope.

John the Baptist always conceded that he was only announcing the arrival of someone greater than himself. Obama, though an incredibly inspiring individual, is not the one John was speaking of.

Perhaps its not even about Obama, but more about that one line. We are simply not the ones we have been waiting for... Or, at least more specifically, I am not who I hoped for. Such hope, is poor hope.

My first article on Obama caught the attention of another blog, Deep Furrows. The blogger used my article to show that Obama's followers write with a messianic flare in concern for Obama's presidential campaign. Though after arguing my rhetoric, she capitulated that I indeed was not crossing the line between a hope and the Hope, but nonetheless, I have grown sensitive to the critique.

My good friend Chris Marchland has kept me grounded, promising me, that no matter the political promises made, the status quo will remain the status quo. And to a large extent that is one of my hopes. In comparison to the other countries round the world, the United States is doing quite well. Change need not be radical, to be meaningful.

However, in a world still marred by sin and scarcity, no amount of hope will ever truly ascend human depravity, unless of course the One we have been waiting for arrives... ... and its not Barack Obama.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

On Christ Assuming Both X and Y

The Christological controversies in the first few centuries of Christianity often centered around ensuring that Christ was both fully divine and fully human. The reason, ostensibly, as to why it was important for Christ to have a complete human nature was the patristic quip, ‘That which is not assumed, is not sanctified.’ Of course, the early Fathers wanted all of humanity to be fully sanctified. Thus, wanted to make sure that Christology claimed that Christ was completely human (and divine).

But what about the female-ness of women? Was that assumed by the seemingly male Christ. Perhaps so. If women are homogametic sex (they have two X chromosomes) then Christ – being male – took on the heterogametic sex (having and X and Y chromosome) and thus women, too, were assumed, truly, as the X chromosome was assumed and thus sanctified in the male Christ.

Just a thought.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Eighth Sacrament

Holy Week is an emotional and spiritual roller-coaster. On Palm Sunday Christ is given a king’s welcome into the city of Jerusalem by Friday is he is crucified only then to find him risen again on Sunday!

However, beside the emotional torrent, Holy Week is also sacramental. The supper scene where Christ break bread and shares wine is part of the larger passion narrative. What has constituted a sacrament for the Catholic Church is reflected in its relations to Christ’s work on earth. Though my seminarian friends would contend with me, I agree that specific sacraments extend past Baptism and Eucharist and include Confirmation, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Ordination, and Marriage (I try in vain to persuade my Protestant friends that if they become Catholic they’ll get three times the sacraments and receive three times the grace!). The sacraments are to be outward signs of inward grace. However, why not an eighth sacrament: Foot-washing?

Usually a sacrament is rooted in the work of Christ. Foot-washing figures prominently in thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of John. It reads:
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

The imperative seems clear, be servants even if lords. Wash feet and be humbled.

For Catholics the rite is timidly embraced on Maundy Thursday services (today) participation is usually voluntary and is in variance depending on the church.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like idea of washing someone else feet. But that’s the point. It is to become humbled. I could think of few things more unpleasant than washing my neighbors’ feet.

Of course, the cross should humble us. It should shake us till we weep, and doesn’t the song, “I was there when they crucified my Lord” do that? And yet, sometimes the cross is too big, its too awing. It sometime seems to perfect, clean, theologized, detached, and abstract. So, while during those times, why not in worship, turn to our neighbors, and wash? It would be a reminder that God in Christ washed the apostles’ feet. The awkward, uncomfortable and tense feelings that would surely swell in both the washer and recipient would not be an emotion to overcome, but wallow in, just as the apostles were aghast at Christ’s action, and then in turn realize that they too would be asked to wash feet, and be humbled.

Should foot-washing really be a sacrament? I do not know, but I think it could have a powerful place in worship for conveying how we should only come to the altar table in humbleness. Surely, how one approaches the altar for Eucharist is how one approaches the Holy Week; humbled.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Augustine: God Is Not the World

A passage by St. Augustine on why pantheism (and Sally McFague's theology) are blasphemy from his book City of God, Book IV Chapter 12.

Chapter 12. The theory that makes God the soul of the world, the body of God.

But here is another point. And it is one which no man of quick intelligence, in fact no man at all (for there is no need here of exceptional ability) can consider unmoved. Putting aside all contentious polemics, let us note carefully that if God is the Soul of the World and the world is to him as the body to the soul, if this God is, as it were in the bosom of nature and contains all things in himself, so that from his soul, which gives life to the whole of that mass, the life and soul of all living things is derived - according to the lot assigned at birth to each; if this is so, then nothing at all remains which is not a part of God. Can anyone fail to see the blasphemous and irreligious consequences? Anything which anyone treads underfoot would be a part of God! In the killing of any living creature, a part of God would be slaugtered! I shrink from uttering all the possibilities which come to mind; it would be impossible to mention them without shame."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Nyssa: Your God Is Too Small

A passage by Gregory of Nyssa on the Abundance and Infinit nature of God (or why Process Theology will ontologize evil and make God complicit in suffering) from Life of Moses

II, 236. "He learns form what was said that the Divine is by its very nature infinite, enclosed by no boundary. If the Divine is perceived as though bounded by something, one must by all means consider along with that boundary what is beyond it. For certainly that which is bounded leaves off at some point, as air provides the boundary for all that flies and water for all that live in it. Therefore, fish are surrounded on every side by water, and birds by air. The limits of the boundaries which circumscribe the birds and the fish are obvious: The water is the limit to what swims and the air to what flies. In the same way, God, if he is conceived as bounded, would necessarily be surrounded by something in nature. It is only logical that what encompasses is much larger than what is contained."

II, 237. "Now it is agreed that the Divine is good in nature. But what is different in nature from the Good is surely something outside the Good. What is outside the Good is perceived to be evil in nature. But it was shown that what encompasses is much larger than what is encompassed. It most certainly follows, then, that those who think God is bounded conclude that he is in enclosed in evil.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

On Peter Pan Discovering the Eucharist

In Steven Spielberg’s 1991 movie classic “Hook”, a now grown Peter Pan, played by Robin Williams, returns to Neverland. Ensconced in his practical and mature demeanor he tries and fails to rekindle his connection with the Lost Boys.

During dinner, one night, the Lost Boys and Peter sit down to eat supper. Though the plates and baskets on the long table are empty the Lost Boys quickly begin, ostensible, to eat from the empty plates and drink from the empty cups. Peter looks on incredulously. The boys continue to merrily eat and drink. Finally, Peter and another Lost Boy begin to sling school-yard insults at each other; Peter finally begins to embrace a youthful vim and vigor. Peter as an afterthought to particularly pointed jab takes up a spoon and throws an imaginary pile of food onto the other Lost Boy, and to the surprise of Pan, he finds the boy covered in food.

At that moment a Lost Boy exclaims, “You’re doing it, Peter!” “Doing what?” asks Peter. The Lost Boy replies, “Using you imagination!”

The camera pans over the table, its contents are now transformed; no more are the plates and baskets empty, but are now filled with roasts, chesses, breads, pies, and exotic fruits. The empty table is now a royal banquet. A seeming cornucopia has appeared from nothing, and Peter with astonishment and haste begins to sample the many foods. The abundance of the table has no end, and in the excitement of the moment the food is used not just for sustenance, but also a way to express sheer joy, as the children and Peter soon after begin a food-fight.

The Lost Boys’ table is analogous to the Church’s altar at which the Eucharist is consecrated and given to and eaten by the faithful. The faithful are those who can imagine that such simply elements such as bread and wine are transubstantiated into the real and abundant presence of our Lord God. It is to believe that an empty table can become a royal banquet. To faithfully imagine such a possibility is not easy. Just like Peter who had to resign himself from the constraints of the world he so strongly believed in, so too must Christians. The moment of recognition caught him by surprise and with joy, just as it did the disciples who did not recognize that they were traveling with the Risen Christ to Emmaus. Not until the supper feast when the bread was broken did the disciples recognize that their companion was Christ (Luke 24:13-35).

The ecclesial table that seems empty to a passerby is a royal banquet to all Christians and this new sight comes from the faithful imagination of God’s people. Samuel Wells is right when he talks of the importance of Christian imagination. The Eucharist is the moment when Christians proclaim that in the midst of simply bread and wine is the eternal, sovereign and loving God who gave the world His only begotten Son.

And yet, the familial table may be scarce of food and drink. The consequences from famines and droughts are realities whose effects may be mollified, but never completely avoided. The fruits of the spirit are bountiful, but at times the empty stomach will go unfed and the parched tongue will stay dry. The ecclesial altar and the familial table do not hold the same promises. This is only to say we do not live in Neverland. That though the Kingdom of God has grown near it is not fully realized. This does not deny the importance of Christian imagination; instead it makes it even more important. More important because it is how one unlocks the Eucharist for what it truly is; the body and blood of Christ, shed for us and for all so that we may be forgiven of sins. The abundant forgiveness of God is a testament to the abundant love of God.

The foretaste of the Kingdom of God comes through the Eucharist. Just as for Peter Pan the way to find the real banquet was to first imagine it – to think as a child. The theological key to the Eucharist – the full abundance of God on earth – is faithful imagination. Certainly it should remind one of Luke 18:16, “But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’”

Friday, March 7, 2008

Political Blogging - End-game

Jonthan Chait at the New Republic wrote the article "Go Already!" He writes:
The morning after Tuesday's primaries, Hillary Clinton's campaign released a memo titled "The Path to the Presidency." I eagerly dug into the paper, figuring it would explain how Clinton would obtain the Democratic nomination despite an enormous deficit in delegates. Instead, the memo offered a series of arguments as to why Clinton should run against John McCain--i.e., "Hillary is seen as the one who can get the job done"--but nothing about how she actually could. Is she planning a third-party run? Does she think Obama is going to die? The memo does not say.

Be afriad democrats, be very afraid.

Hillary Clinton is playing to the worst of political ballads. Simultaneously playing victim and victimizer, and throwing down the fear card. Her insistence on seating the Michigan and Florida delegation would be admirable if she has made them months before (in fairness, Obama's political maneuvering in connection to his promise to only use public funds for the general election is also, but not equally as, deplorable). Her now openly negative campaign will hurt Obama in the general election, and her future chances at running again in 2012.

Tuesday she netted nine delegates. On Wednesday three new super-delegates came out to support Obama. The only way she wins the nomination is by forcing the party to implode. If Clinton continues to assert herself there are only two end-games; Obama is nominated, but so haggard from the primary (especially in FL, PA, MI) that the general falls to McCain, or Clinton clinches the nomination, but disillusioned democrats and moderates pick the lesser of two evils and McCain wins in an electoral landslide.

The question is when will Gore, Richardson and Dean tell Clinton to get off the stage?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Atheism: Moral or Intellectual?

My well intentioned mother recently sent me an article from Daily Encounter, entitled, "Is Atheism an Intellectual or a Moral Issue?" The article begins on a false dialectical premise; it is either ones heart, or ones mind that is hindering someone from finding God in Christ. This need not be the case.

This blog often seems to be more 'Catholic' than 'atheist', but it is not a misnomer. We have to be authentic to what we believe, not prideful, but honest. The reason the article was so painful to read is that it perpetuated two problematic, and popular, (mis)understandings of atheism.

1) Atheists are intellectually stubborn or myopic. If they were honest they would see the abundant and (obvious) proofs of God's existence. The article states:

The incredible vastness of the universe and its formation is staggering. To accept all of this as happening by chance would take a mountain more of faith than to believe it all happened by intelligent design by a divine creator. And still the atheist says there is no God.

Certainly, there is agnosticism that should pervade every human thought in connection to the creation of the world, be Christians or atheists, alike. Christians profess that God created the world ex nihilo. Though to profess and to comprehend are different intellectual claims. No one, but God, could comprehend in totality what it means to create something from nothing. This is why births are so fantastical, whence did this new life come from? Though biological it may be explicable, but perhaps not fully comprehendible. I am certainly in awe of the starry sky above me. So, the claim of atheism is not a pronouncement on creation, but an assertion against the existence of God – they are separate issues.

However, the larger issue is that atheism need not be about the intellectual quandaries that seem to have mesmerized Christians and non-Christians. So often you here atheists argue that God can not exist because of evil, or there is no historical evidence to prove that Jesus rose from the dead. Others argue that the Church, if God was real, would not be so corrupted. To point, many Christian theologians are constructing new theologies to try and better articulate answers to these ‘problems.’ Christians should be sympathetic to these concerns, but ultimately the Church (which used Scripture), I believe, has rather persuasive answers to these concerns; the Augustinian notion of evil, the Kierkegaardian 'leap to faith', and the doctrine of sin, respectively. These issues often perplex, worry and even at times estrange Christians from their faith. However, these intellectual concerns are not what necessarily lead people to atheism.

Perhaps we ought to turn to Thomas (from John 20:24-29):
24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." 28 Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" 29Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

In Luke, two followers of Jesus, on their way to Emmaus talk of Jesus without recognizing him as their companion until the supper feast. Thus, my hope is that someday, while during the Eucharist I see, saying, 'My Lord and my God.' However, there is for some atheists an inexplicable nature in their disbelief. Personally, there is no 'reason' for my disbelief. I find Christianity persuasive, desirable, and admirable, but I still do not believe. Just as Thomas would have surely have wanted to believe Jesus had risen, he did not. Thus, atheism is not essentially driven by intellectual quandaries; it is not simply an 'intellectual issue'.

The article stated somewhat rightly, that, "If I say there is no God, I make myself the final voice of authority and therein usurp the role of God in my life. I become a god unto myself." This type of arrogant atheism is currently and unfortunately more the rule than the exception. Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins come to mind. Often some believe that a type of 'reverent agnosticism' ought to be adopted. I rather think a type of reverent humility would be better. Agnosticism suggests that one doesn't know, humility suggests the possibility of error. Atheist, believe they know, but should always concede that they may be wrong, and for me, hope to be wrong.

2) The article suggested that atheists are taking a moralistic 'pass'. They know that if they accept Christ, they must also accept the responsibility to live a moral life. Thus, atheists have eschewed the Church so as to shirk their responsibilities to their fellow brothers and sisters. The article states:
In the end we ultimately believe what we choose to believe—often what is the most convenient for us. For instance, if I choose to believe in God, I know I am morally responsible. On the other hand, if I chose not to believe in God, I delude myself into thinking I am not morally responsible and can live as I please. For example, "Philosopher Mortimer Adler, one of the great intellectuals of the twentieth century, believed Christianity was true, but refused to accept it because it would interfere with his lifestyle. In time, he overcame that objection and became a Christian, which, given the evidence, was the only rational thing to do." I would dare to suggest that maybe, just maybe, his honesty led him in his choice to make a commitment of his life to God and become a Christian.

Perhaps some atheists have figured this crude calculus, I think most have not. To suppose that atheists have cleverly weighed their moralistic options, and chosen that religion is too high a cost seems ludicrous, or at least suspect. Many Christians blithely live immoral lives, and many atheists live meritoriously moral lives. I saw Jim Wallis give a lecture recently where he stated that, "Christians do not have a monopoly on morality." And he is right. But, Christianity does claim to have the true reason for why one must be moral.

Secular humanists have often supported important moral movements. Kurt Vonnegut - my favorite author - was a deeply moral person, and it was embodied in both in his books and his life. Secular humanists share many concerns that the Church shares, but it is in their reasons that they differ with Christianity so poignantly.

Thus, it would seem evident that atheism is not a moral issue, nor is it a intellectual issue. Though it may be for some, it is not exclusively these two.

So what is the issue of atheism?
Whence does disbelief come?

This saddens me, but I do not know. I have no 'reason' for being atheist, I simply am. It is not to be antagonist or stubborn. Yet, the lack of faith, makes me then turn and reexamine theological understandings of soteriology and grace.

If one posits that there is a prevenient grace, then why cannot can I not choose to accept it? If the grace is open and free to all why then do so many not grasp for it, especially those very many who want it?

Another possibility is that many (all?) atheists are just anonymous Christians. They understand the truth of God in a different, but still equally meaningful way. The way this is usually presented is not very satisfying. It seems to mitigate the absolute truth in Christ, while also usurping the real beliefs (or unbeliefs) that others hold toward God in general and Christianity in particular.

Another possibility is that Calvin’s double-predestination was correct. I do often joke to friends that I am the only Calvinist that believes I am not part of the elect. Yet, my Methodists friends usually grow concerned with such a suggestion. They critique that such a God seems to be a God not worth worship, a God that ostensibly arbitrarily predetermined the outcome and course of history and salvation.

Of course, none of these options (and there are more) seem to rectify my lack of faith, nor someone else’s. Humility must then finds its place.

Until the pronouncement of faith through revelation, "My Lord and my God" the issue of atheism is neither intellectually or morally situated. It simply is the situation.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Political Blogging - An Unstoppable Force Hits an Unmovable Object

Up until yesterday the democratic presidential race has perfectly illustrated the paradoxical physics question: What happens when an unstoppable force hits an unmovable object? Until yesterday Obama's political force could not be quelled and Clinton's entrenched political machine seemed to be unmovable. The Super-Tuesday contest two weeks ago proved as much, with each garnering about 49% of the popular vote.

Yet, as the dynamic always seems to overcome the static, the social law of inertia, so too has Barack Obama candidacy seems to have finally overcome the once seemingly intractable Clinton machine.

Last night Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia held their primaries - the so called Potomac primaries. Barack Obama won each all with wide margins; in D.C. he won 75% of the vote (arguably Clinton's home state of 8 years). And while the black voting blocks in each primary went overwhelmingly for Obama, he split the white and over 30 vote.

Hawaii and Wisconsin are next to hold their primaries. Obama is favored to win them both. Clinton's campaign has all but written off the rest of the country focusing only on Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania (a poll yesterday showed Clinton ahead in Ohio by 17pts). Just today Hillary Clinton released a negative television ad that tagged Obama as dodging a debate with her in Marquette. (Though pundits have pointed out that her desire to have more debates is partially driven by constrained ability to purchase ad buys because of her campaign's budget crunch).

Obama's force in unstoppable, at least right now. Super-delegates will slowly start backing Obama over Clinton (they would have already backed Clinton if they were going to; she's always been the known quantity in the race). There is still the chance that Hillary Clinton will demand at the convention the seating of Michigan and Florida delegations, and if that happens McCain will win the day and offer another chance for Republicans to laugh at the self-imploding politics of the left. Hopefully and likely, democratic leaders, not necessarily committed to Obama, have or are going to began to call Clinton and politely tell her to take down the tent and congratulate her on an excellent wage campaign. One can only wonder when Howard Dean and Al Gore give Clinton the call.

There are two end-games in this scenario.
The first is if Clinton heeds the democratic leadership and allows the unstoppable force to move into the general election and win the White House. This would be the case of Newton's second law of motion, the law of momentum to win out, and prove that the dynamic can overcome the static.

If she forces the issue of Michigan and Florida and fosters a riot at the convention she will prove Newton's second law of motion; that the two forces might just cancel each other out.

Either way, when the race is over we will have the answer to the age-old question: What happens when an unstoppable force hits an unmovable object? Seems to me the last eight primary races have already given us a hint at the answer.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

In Defense of Rowan Williams: Are Brits Secularists, Xenophobics or Both?

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has been assailed for comments concerning his view that the British legal system could accommodate the Islamic moral code called sharia.

The interview can be found in its entirety at the Archbishop's Website.

I had heard about the incident earlier in the week, but found the remarks rather unremarkable. He wasn't specifically lobbying for the implementation of such a legal system, he was only commenting on the homogenizing effect of a unified legal system and that such a legal augmentation wouldn't necessarily be antithetical to the current system, as it already capitulates to Judeo-Christian legal values.

The Archbishop can perhaps speak for himself:
Christopher Landau (CL) And your concern is that that is in some ways under threat; the ability of religious people to be true to their faith as well as true to their role as citizen in the secular state?

Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC) I think at the moment there's a great deal of confusion about this; a lot of what's been written whether it was about the Catholic church adoptions agencies last year, sometimes what's written about Jewish or Muslim communities; a lot of what's written suggests that the ideal situation is one in which there is one law and only one law for everybody; now that principle that there's one law for everybody is an important pillar of our social identity as a Western liberal democracy, but I think it's a misunderstanding to suppose that that means people don't have other affiliations, other loyalties which shape and dictate how they behave in society and the law needs to take some account of that, so an approach to law which simply said, 'There is one law for everybody and that is all there is to be said, and anything else that commands your loyalty or your allegiance is completely irrelevant in the processes of the courts'. I think that's a bit of a danger.

CL And that is why Sharia should have its place?

ABC That is why there is a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law as we already do with some kinds of aspects of other religious law.

As personally innocuous the statement seems, the response has become a shrill pitch. The TimesOnline writer, Minnette Marrin, wrote an article entitled (sincerely, and without ironic hyperbole intended) "Archbishop, You've Committed Treason." The always level headed Christopher Hitchens wrote a similarly spew-filled article from the Slate entitled, "To Hell with the Archbishop of Canterbury."

Most of Britain seems incensed by Williams' comments. However, the outcry signals clearly one of two possibilities; Brits are either thoroughgoing modern-secularists or xenophobic or both.

This deep disdain Brits seem to come from the fact that someone would have the audacity to put God before country.

Marrin rites boisterously;
In the midst of all this moral confusion and relativism, is the premier prelate in the land holding fast that which is good? Far from it. He is recommending multicultural legal cherry-picking, in which individuals would be free to choose the jurisdiction they preferred for certain matters. He even admits that his proposal introduces, “uncomfortably”, the idea of a market in the law, “a competition for loyalty”.

Yet, what Williams' is suggesting is not relativism, which is in fact what the common-law legal system creates; a legal amalgamation between precedence and innovation. The Archbishop is not suggesting relativism but an alternative legal system used to specifically eschew relativism and follow an unmitigated code of conduct.

The ubiquitous and universal legal system in the United States leads to strange outcomes, too. Dr. D. Stephen Long often muses that privately owned bars are barred from allowing patrons to smoke in their establishments, but that the Neo-Nazis are legally allowed to march yearly in the heavily Jewish suburb of Skokie.

Yet, what makes Marrin's article so revoltingly interesting was that her premise rested in the concern for the 'good'. Yet the case could be made that she has confused the good of the City of Man with the ultimate Good that rests in only in God. The jurisprudence of the city may at times reflect the will of God, but it can never univocally circumscribe the justice of God; as God's justice and God's mercy are never in competition, but in inclusive harmony with one another. The good found in civil justice can only be partial. Politics itself, as Dr. Brent Waters states, 'is the art of exclusion.'

Yet, if Brits were modern-secularists it would seem that plurality would be defended, if not merely treated with indifference; the suggestion taken as a suggestion as an odd erudite-driven argument from an academically minded religious leader. For modernists it should have been seen as just another idea in the marketplace of ideas. So, it might something more insidious than a bland modernism, perhaps just good-ol' fashioned xenophobia. England is touting the rallying cry for unification, and this may be well in good, but just as absolute diversity demands an infinite-regress that can never be satiated, so too does absolute unity demand a homogenization that leads to an erosion of particularity ultimately obliterating individual identity. Rowan Williams is thinking theologically, plurality is a reasonable compromise for a country that has multiple cultural milieus and mores. Of course, the call for unity can only be truly accomplished in the act of being Church acting as the body of Christ.

I end simply with the Bishop's own words, which are simply a call for the Augustinian act of faith seeking reason:
ABC People may be surprised but I hope that that surprise will be modified when they think about the general question of how the law and religious community, religious principle are best and fruitfully accommodated. What we don't want I think is either a stand-off where the law squares up to religious consciences over something like abortion or indeed by forcing a vote on some aspects of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in the commons as it were a secular discourse saying 'we have no room for conscientious objections'; we don't want that, we don't either I think want a situation where because there's no way of legally monitoring what communities do, making them part of public process, people do what they like in private in such a way that that becomes a way of intensifying oppression within a community and that happens; that happens. So how does the law engage critically and intelligently – the law of the land – with the custom, the imperatives, the principles of distinctive religious communities? It's a large question, much larger than the question about Islam and I think it's a question which the Church can quite reasonably be thinking about.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Political Blogging - Short Term Memory Loss: Why Obama Is Winning

The only thing the Clinton campaign is spinning is the same thing they’ve been slinging; mud. The moderate, but clear, Obama win last night points to future money, super-delegate support and momentum.

For all this the news pundits, as a whole, have fallen under a spell of short term memory loss. This morning New York Times' headline read, "Obama, Clinton Trade victories." Really? Only two weeks ago I read an article that claimed that an Obama 'win' would mean winning 7-8 states; instead he won 14.

Just on Monday The Nation's John Nichols wrote, "An Obama Sweep? What Are the Possibilities?" He gave seven steps to an Obama sweep; Obama cleared five of seven of the hurdles.

1) Win 40% in New York (check)
2) Win either NJ or CT (won CT)
3) Win GA and AL (check and check)
4) Win 2/3 battle grounds MO, NM, AZ (won MO and AZ)
5) Win some toss-ups (won UT, DE or AK)
6) Win CA (lost)
7) Win MA (lost)

Just a few reminders that throughout the month of January Clinton was winning California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and et. al by 15% or more.
The national polls showed a virtual dead-heat.

He won the states, he won the delegates, he won the money in January and the calendar favors him for the next month. Nebraska, Main and Washington are caucuses (he has won the last 7/8), and Maryland, Louisiana and D.C. all have large black populations.

Intrade was volatile yesterday, but after the dust has settled it shows Obama as the big winner. He now sits 52.4 to Clinton's 48.9. Remembering that I invested $1,000 (247 shares) before Nevada at 40.5, I now am up $293.

It also has just been reported that Clinton, strapped for on-hand cash, will self-finance her campaign to the tune of $5 million. An incredible turn of events considering she was touted as the best-financed presidential nominees just months ago.

Watch for a big endorsements to continue to shore up Obama's bid (Edwards? Gore?) and watch for money to now play an advantage for their campaign. Also watch for super-delegates to feel more safe in coming out and pledging for Obama.

Also, a must see the new video by I.Am.Will, "Yes We Can" which is a montage of Obama's victory speech placed to music and accompanied by a number of young stars.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Political Blogging - Obama's Fourth Win

If delegates are what decide nominations then Barack Obama won his fourth straight showing last night in South Carolina garnering 25 of 45 unpledged state delegates. Though poised to win the state contest, few expected such a routing where Obama carried 55% of the popular vote compared to Clinton who claimed only half that much with 27%.

During the commotion of the South Carolina returns it was announced that Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late president John F. Kennedy, was endorsing Obama’s candidacy. The op-ed will run in the Sunday edition of the New York Times, movingly entitled, “A President Like My Father”.

Update: Ted Kennedy will be endorsing Barack Obama's campaign, making the announcement Monday in Washington D.C., before the State of the Union. The news comes even after MSNBC pundits perdicted that the very senior Senator would stay out of the race. Obama now has both senators from Massachusetts supporting his campaign. Senator John Kerry threw his support behing Obama three weeks ago. Massachusetts holds its primary on February 5th.

The Obama victory speech was much like his Iowa speech; stirring, inspiring and quintessentially, hopefully. Again consider that unpledged delegates are what win nominations this will be the fourth straight victory for Obama: who won in Iowa, tied in New Hampshire, won in Nevada and who has now swept South Carolina.

As Florida has no delegates, the next contests will be on February 5th where over twenty states will hold primaries.

With such momentum behind Barack Obama it is hard to foresee an end to the campaign even after the dishing out of super-Tuesday delegates. Will Edwards play the kingmaker?

Lastly, Governor Crist of Florida has endorsed McCain, seemingly sealing the deal for John McCain’s run in Florida where Mayor Giuliani pegged his presidential promises on winning. The endorsement also fueled speculation that Crist might be John McCain running-mate if he captures the nomination.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Political Blogging - Good Cop, Bad Cop, Bad Politics

There is a bad moon arising. The continued good cop, bad cop routine by Hillary and Bill Clinton respectively adds up to only one thing, bad politics.

In the beginning of Hillary Clinton's race Bill Clinton was going to, naturally, be an advisor, and Hillary Clinton as running as first and foremost Hillary Clinton. Yet, as Barack Obama retorted during Monday night's debate, "I can’t tell who I’m running against sometimes." Bill's recent ubiquity is a problem, and undermines Hillary's original campaign promise. As the New York Times op-ed writer Gail Collins wrote yesterday, "Now, Bill’s role as Chief Attack Dog undermines all that. If he’s all over her campaign, he’s going to be all over her administration. Instead of the original promise of the thoroughly educated Hillary, we’re being offered the worst-case scenario — that the pair of them are going to return to Pennsylvania Avenue and recreate the old Clinton chaos."

In the past few primaries she has apologized for how her husband has acted, playing the innocent good cop, now all veils of naivety have fallen. The New York Times reporter Patrick Healy wrote, "Advisers to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton say they have concluded that Bill Clinton’s aggressive politicking against Senator Barack Obama is resonating with voters, and they intend to keep him on the campaign trail in a major role after the South Carolina primary." And this is in the primary! This isn't politics, this is professional wrestling, and it isn't change, it's exactly that type of push-polling Bush did to McCain in 2000 in South Carolina, its mud-trowing at its worst.

Yet, all are not silent. The recently minted radio attack ad aired by Clinton in South Carolina was pulled after only one day following a rancorous outcry by many who saw the ad as unduly misleading. All of this reminds one of the New Hampshire debate where Edwards stated, "Anytime you speak out powerfully for change the forces of status quo attack, every time." The dynamic interplay of the 'two-headed' monster is not what presidential politics should be about. In December I wrote "What's in a Poll" that 13% chose "Married to Bill Clinton" as the number positive personal quality in who they were supporting (i.e. Hillary). As I said before this is a staggeringly stupid reason. There is a reason for term-limits. And lest we again not forget that for the last 20 years the President of the United States has either been a 'Bush' or 'Clinton'. Democracy is about eroding dynasties and monarchies, not sustaining them.

The Clinton years were not much than the Bush years; in that they were typified by political partisanship that knew no end. Clinton has obviously and unequivocally chosen to run a caustic campaign. Her good cop, bad cop campaign style is only bad politics. If nominated she will run a general election campaign that will surely focus on winning nothing more than 50.0001% of the electorate; losers be damned.

Don't believe me? Read op-ed from the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan. She writes, "In Dillon, S.C., according to the Associated Press, on Thursday Mr. Clinton "predicted that many voters will be guided mainly by gender and race loyalties" and suggested his wife may lose Saturday's primary because black voters will side with Mr. Obama. Who is raising race as an issue? Bill Clinton knows. It's the press, and Mr. Obama. "Shame on you," Mr. Clinton said to a CNN reporter. The same day the Web site believed to be the backdoor of the Clinton war room unveiled a new name for the senator from Illinois: "Sticky Fingers Obama." Bill Clinton, with his trembly, red-faced rage, makes John McCain look young. His divisive and destructive daily comportment—this is a former president of the United States—is a civic embarrassment."

However, perhaps most telling of how far (too far) the Clintons have gone can be found in her home state, and party's paper, the New York Times. The weak worded and almost conciliatory Clinton endorsement by the Times reads, "The idea of the first African-American nominee of a major party also is exhilarating, and so is the prospect of the first woman nominee. “Firstness” is not a reason to choose. The times that false choice has been raised, more often by Mrs. Clinton, have tarnished the campaign." Further down the editorial board write, "As strongly as we back her candidacy, we urge Mrs. Clinton to take the lead in changing the tone of the campaign. It is not good for the country, the Democratic Party or for Mrs. Clinton, who is often tagged as divisive, in part because of bitter feeling about her husband’s administration and the so-called permanent campaign. (Indeed, Bill Clinton’s overheated comments are feeding those resentments, and could do long-term damage to her candidacy if he continues this way.)"

It is telling that Obama opened a 'truth squad' in South Carolina so as to ensure that Obama's positions are not distorted. The effort, led by former-senator Tom Daschle, was reported by "First Read" at MSNBC. All of this says one thing: the Clinton good cop, bad cop routine is just bad politics.

Read John Kerry's take on ex-president Bill Clinton's recent smears toward Barack Obama, as reported by the National Journal On Air.

Also, read the spoof article by the Onion that, as always, edges a little to close for comfort; humorously entitled, "Bill Clinton: 'Screw It, I'm Running.'" This article was cited by The New Republic blog written by Noam Scheiber who also things this is becoming Bill's rather than Hillary's race.

Finally, if I could write as well and elegant (and as informed) as professionals I would have written this piece in the National Review, penned by Peter Wehner. The article chronicles all the reason we should be truly appauled if just not confused by how the Clintons are acting (attaking).

To bastion the argument read Bob Herbert's op-ed printed in Saturday's New York Times. He writes, "The Clinton camp knows what it’s doing, and its slimy maneuvers have been working... What kind of people are the Clintons? What role will Bill Clinton play in a new Clinton White House? Can they look beyond winning to a wounded nation’s need for healing and unifying?" Indeed.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Global/Christian Idenity and Immigration Policy

Political economy, especially global political economy, is an exciting mess.

My friend at the Mystical Atheistjust wrote an article on immigration and its effects economically and socially.

I hope to throw a few helpful and friendly rejoinders into the ring: 1) a discussion about global objectified human identity 2) the need for immigration control as it pertains to economics.

First, there is a concern that late-modern capitalism has, in its ability to dissipate and dissolve political sovereignty created neo-colonialization. Such that, colonialization in its almost defining role of dehumanizing local people, so too (some argue) capitalism had eroded the 'Real' subjectivity of peoples around the world; now being reduced to mere consumers and producers working in/for a capitalist machine that has stripped any discernable marks of authentic humanity.

Yet, this is not the case. This argument, and its cottage-industry ilk, posits a type of vague essential subjectivity for humanity. Yet, this ontology is not only vague but conspicuously weak in light that capitalism has ostensibly crippled it from its role in defining what it means to be man.

Further, let me suggest that the only ontology that can be historically sustained is one that can both fully envelope the character of humanity while at the same time express the transcendental nature of humanity, which of course is reality that humanity is both creature and made in God's image.

I have strayed from the conversation. The point to consider is that globalization has certainly eroded the 20th century's fascination with national identity. The nation state is a relatively new political concept and one that has had devastating consequences. All of this is to suggest that culture, language and geographic boundaries may never be able to suffice in constructing a harmonious identity - and certainly does not seem strong enough in creating a holistic identity that will lead to economic-parity of pay. Yet, perhaps, religious identity can; that we all share the same ontological grounding in the fact that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. If interested the post-humanist literature is both fascinating and deeply, deeply troubling (and that is another one of the reasons I have yet to give up hope for faith).

2) There is a need for immigration control, and the reasons are counter-intuitive. The desire to open borders for labor (as we do now for capital) is an idea that has long been championed by truly staunch capitalists. The increased fluidity and liberation of capital has certainly helped development in the world (though has also led to gluts and dumps) around the world. Stiglitz in his new book states that if we are serious about free trade, then we should also be serious about being more amenable and open to more fluid and unrestrained immigratory/emigratory labor markets. This certainly seems the case in E.U. as one of its final economic unifying decisions was to open immigration between countries (though let's remember England).

Yet, for all the economic reasons that seem to scream for open labor markets, let us examine two concerns: 1) immigrant country infrastructure 2) emigrant country brain drain.

It seems the liberal bleeding-heart issue of the day is immigration; specifically, how ruthless it must to not allow immigrants into the United States and allow them to work towards the 'American Dream.' However, proponents should realized that capping the number of immigrants into the country is not necessarily a heartless policy nor a veiled attempt at keeping the population fair skinned. No, there are infrastructure concerns that must be considered. Cities inundated with high numbers of immigrants (especially illegal immigration) do not have the resources to properly deal with the unexpected, and often sudden increases in the population. These increases especially affect already crowded public schools that often may not have quality ESL transition teachers who can give the type of assistant many of these immigratory students will need. Often illegal immigrants lack the ability to procure health care leading to little if any preventive medical treatment and increased ER visits which are dramatically more expense, while the costs are left to the local hospital or local municipal government to cover. Finally, if labor was free to move into this country freely without restraint the labor market that was initially so (relatively) lucrative for them would fall. Increased cheap labor would lead to (inevitably) falling wages. Minimum wages might mitigate some of these effects, but such a glut of cheap labor would almost surely intensify the already potent incentive of black market labor.

However, this is not the worst. The worst is that opening the United States to world labor will emaciate the labor pools of other countries. The state of Indiana was concerned with what they dubbed the ‘brain drain’ in the late 1990’s. They were concerned with the high percentage of high school and college graduates that immediately left Indiana for employment in other states. I am one of those ‘brain drain’ students from Indiana. Michigan has talked of a similar problem, too. With unfettered boundaries for labor there is a risk the best and brightest of developing countries will flock to the United States or Europe eschewing more limited economic, educational, and occupational opportunities in their native countries. The global draw of the American university system has already begun such a process, one that could have unforeseen, but still devastating effects on developing countries that find themselves with a perpetual dearth of human capital.

Thus, there are – I think – convincing, if not counter-intuitive, reasons why immigration policies should continue to set limits on how many aliens are naturalized annually and how many visas are granted each year.

Finally, let us turn our eyes to Stiglitz (and who so unfortunately wrote an overly-apocalyptic op-ed for the New York Times today). In his more sober and somber moments, specifically in his book, “Making Globalization Work” he articulates that the problem with globalization is not that there is too much of it, but not enough. Pointedly, there has not been enough globalized-banking mechanisms nor globalized-political power. So, while the 1980’s and 1990’s innovation in telecommunications marketedly increased the ability of business to globalize, political institutions have been much, much more resistant to such a change. Inroads have been made, but usually political unification is the last step in the process, while economically driven trade agreements are the first. The development, if not strange development, of the EU is a text book example; it started out as trade agreement for steel and coal. Global political governance will certainly be able to set humanitarian and environmental standards, which are currently undermined by single national governances that have little control in forcing regulations on transnational corporations lest the businesses leave for a country that offers more amenable (less restrictive) policies on labor and the environment.

Ultimately, let us turn back to the presidential race as a way to find an end to my rambling. I cringe every time Barrack Obama (and Edwards and Clinton) that NAFTA was a mistake. I cringe every time my friends say the same. Truly free trade is fair trade. Continuing farm subsidizes is undermining the competitive advantage of South American countries, but the blue collar jobs that are moving across oceans are not coming back (unless transportations costs skyrocket), and the American citizens needs to accept our own competitive advantage which rests in a highly educated work force. As much as I love Obama he falls into the old and evil necessity of playing to the whims and wills of the American unions’ worries.