Jun. 26th, 2013
07:32 pm - The Rise of the Libertarian Jesus
For the last several years, I've been wondering about the rise of what I'll call the "Libertarian Jesus" in contemporary Christian culture. By the "Libertarian Jesus," I mean the anti-government, anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-redistributive laissez-faire Jesus. These days said Libertarian Jesus also seems to condemn anything that anyone might have ever associated with something President Obama might have once said or liked as well, but discussing that is another point for another day.
The funny thing about the libertarian Jesus, is that he is wholly absent from the scriptures and as far as I can tell his roots only go back as far as the 19th century. In defense of the proponents of the Libertarian Jesus, modern Catholic social thought is equally as recent, and the novelty of the Libertarian Jesus should not be an a priori condemnation of the Libertarian Jesus as an idea. That being said, the historical evidence is still pretty damning.
Let us begin with the anti-government aspect of the Libertarian Jesus. If you look at the majority of the history of Christianity (say from Constantine to the French Revolution) there was precisely one form of government viewed as acceptable in Christian thought --- Monarchy. While the divine right of kings was always more of a political idea than a theological one, Christendom was ruled by ever-shifting collections of emperors, kings and princes with very, very small limits on their powers. The thought of democracy terrified the powers that be, both religious and civil, not just because it proposed an alternative to the ancien regime but because the fall of monarchy had the potential to take the Church down with it --- a fear that proved more than justified during the Reign of Terror. It wasn't until some years later --- arguably until the late 19th century --- that Christianity, at least in its Catholic form managed to reconcile itself with democracy. In this light, the anti-government aspects of the Libertarian Jesus represent a major break with previous Christian tradition and ought to be suspect.
The laissez-faire aspects of the Libertarian Jesus don't begin their long genesis until the 19th century raised the social question. With the collapse of feudal society and the beginning of the industrial revolution, the cleanout of the ancien regime was nearing its completion. The old aristocrat found himself replaced by the new bourgeoisie; and the new worker found himself asking whether or not his new bourgeoisie boss was any better than the aristocratic lord who ruled over his grandfather. To Marx and his followers a new round of revolution was called for --- the working man had to throw off his chains. Those who felt less extreme solutions were necessary turned to trade unionism, the logical extension of the medieval guilds of artisans to the industrial age. Needless to say, the reaction this provoked was intense, and those who opposed Marx and socialism also turned equal vehemence on the unionist, seeking to defend the new, capitalist social order at all cost. This, it would turn out, would be the intellectual breeding ground for the Libertarian Jesus, who would enlist for himself an unlikely ally --- Friedrich Nietzsche.
As Nietzsche noted in The Greek State, "Even if it were true that the Greeks were ruined because they kept slaves, the opposite is even more certain, that we will be destroyed because we fail to keep slaves." You see, to Nietzsche, the rise of the worker was the fall of civilization. Or to put it in more modern language, unions and their social-democratic agenda bankrupt and impoverish our country. In Nietzsche, the Libertarian Jesus had found his proto-philosopher. These same threads of thought would later find their way into Austrian economic thought --- most notably Hayek --- and finally to the writings of the current libertarian writer of choice, the anti-Christian bigot Ayn Rand. I also would note that the modern language of "class warfare" on behalf of the American right has unconsciously adopted Nietzschian tones in defense of its "maker class." For to them, right in line with Hayek's thought, the entrepreneur is, in effect the modern equivalent of the Nietzscian Übermensch.
So how do the thoughts of a man who pronounced God dead, a pro-dictatorship economist and the writings of an anti-Christian prophet of greed wind up melding with Christianity to create the Libertarian Jesus? I think that is inextricably tied to the counter-reaction to the civil rights movement, and its lasting influence on the American right, combined with a healthy quantity of elective affinity. Libertarianism was the only counter-response to the civil rights movement with any staying power, as outright notions of racial superiority had been forever tainted by association with Nazi Germany. Folks who opposed the civil rights movement found themselves searching for a new way to explain their often strong feelings about blacks and libertarianism gave them the language to do so. But how could they rectify two rather contradictory things --- Jesus and libertarianism? The answer (with apologies to Feuerbach) was to recreate Jesus in their own image: A Jesus who thought that it wasn't the government's business to tell you who you could or could not serve at your restaurant; a Jesus who didn't feel it necessary to address the issue of crushing poverty; a Jesus who not only endorses the precise socioeconomic agenda you happen to hold, but vehemently condemns all dissenting views as contrary to his teaching. In should, you rectify these things by creating the Libertarian Jesus.
May. 19th, 2013
One of the things that bugs me about both Star Trek Into Darkness and the previous J.J. Abrams ST movie is that the actors are just too young for the Starfleet rank they're supposed to have. It was the same problem I had with Stargate Atlantis only much worse.
On the flip side, I did enjoy the new dress uniforms, which were clearly inspired by the Galactic Empire...
Mar. 21st, 2010
08:26 pm - Lord Have Mercy
So most of you who read this know I'm not the hugest fan of "white boy gospel music" that has become popular among certain contemporary Catholic composers. Which means that I really don't like the Mass of Glory setting (try playing it on guitar some time... it's really, really boring). However, I will make an exception for the Lord Have Mercy. Well, because it injects just enough of a appalachian folk feel to make it cool. You can heard the recording here, but they don't have a guitar, which is a shame, because unlike the rest of the setting, this one is actually fun to play on my acoustic.
Dec. 25th, 2009
01:15 pm - Christmas and the Ordinary
Often we like to focus on the extraordinary of Christmas. The choirs of angels. The star. The wise men from the east. It's easily to look at Christmas from a miraculous perspective because, well, it was pretty miraculous.
But there's another perspective from which it is equally as important to look at Christmas from and that is the perspective of the ordinary. Mary and Joseph never saw the angels. They had no idea about the star. Until the shepherds showed up, the first Christmas for them was all about giving birth to a little boy in somewhat difficult circumstances. No miracles. No angels. Just the ordinary travails of humanity.
I think this second perspective is a critical one to look at, because by focusing only on the miraculous of Christmas, we lose sight of God's presence in the ordinary, the hum-drum, and the occasionally boring episodes of daily life. God did not come to earth on a cloud, or as a stately king. But rather, "There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him" (Is 53:2). More than all the miracles, all the extraordinary moments, all the heroes, and famous men, God came to sanctify the ordinary. There is no moment of human life and human existence too base or boring for God. The little baby Jesus nursed, slept and pooped just like all the rest of us. And in doing so, he sanctified all of it.
I fear that we look for Jesus too often in the big things, the outstanding experiences and the famous people. But if we truly want to find him, perhaps we should look at the little things, the quiet places and the unknown and unwanted. For he has sanctified those no less.
Dec. 5th, 2009
Inspired by the ever-so-awesome daniellij, I will also be running a sporadic Advent meditation series this year. I'll be using various readings or writers as my muse and then going from there. It's been far too long.
Walker Percy (Lost in the Cosmos) writes:
"You have seen yourself a thousand times in the mirror, face to face. No sight is more familiar. Yet why is it that the first time you see yourself in a clothier's triple mirror --- from the side, so to speak --- it comes as a shock? Or the first time you saw yourself in a home movie: were you embarrassed? What about the first time you heard your recorded voice --- did you recognize it? Clearly, you should, since you've been hearing it all your life.
Why is it that, when you are shown a group photograph in which you are present, you always (and probably covertly) seek yourself out? To see what you look like? Don't you know what you look like?
One of the peculiar ironies of being a human self in the Cosmos: A stranger approaching you in the street will in a second's glance see you whole, size you up, place you in a way in which you cannot and never will, even though you have spent a lifetime with yourself, live in the Century of the Self and therefore ought to know best of all.
The question is: Why is it that in your entire lifetime you will never be able to size yourself up as you can size up somebody else --- or size up Saturn --- in a ten second look?"
Advent picks up where Christ the King ends off --- the coming of Christ to material reality. However, unlike the coming of Christ in a manger, Christ the King and the first week of Advent focus a bit more on his second and last coming as King of the Universe at the end of time, where every tear will be washed away (cf. Rev 21:4). The gradual transition from Christ Pantocrator to the Infant Jesus during Advent is intended to teach us.
When one thinks of the Final Judgment, it's hard to separate that from the thought of our own particular judgment --- that one day we shall stand before the Shepherd and find out whether we are sheep or goats (cf. Mt 25:32). That's why I choice the Walker Percy quote above. Because the most terrifying thing about judgment is that despite having lived through every moment of our lives, we still can't really quantify, qualify and analyze ourselves. We don't know ourselves in a complete sense. Or perhaps more disturbingly, we are alienated from our very selves through original sin. We live our lives always harboring at least a morsel of doubt about who we are and who we will be. That lack of certitude is part of the fallen human condition.
If we left it at that, Judgment would be the most terrifying event that we would ever encounter. If we weren't already dead, we might die of fright! But the point of Advent is to remind us of something, or rather, Someone certain. He came into poverty and helplessness with his somewhat bizarre cousin as his herald. The only man who could truly know himself fully came as an infant. For us. Why? Because He was certain about His love for us. In our world (both external and internal) of doubt, ignorance and confusion that love may sometimes be the only thing we can ever depend on. This is one of the lessons of our Advent journey and a lesson worth re-learning every year.
Mar. 2nd, 2009
... I was more or less dared to do this by my buddies:
Feb. 17th, 2009
10:11 pm - The Iconic Doctor...
Courtesy of Obamaicon.me:
Two great Dr. Who plot ideas:
1) The Doctor and Rose Tyler fight an alien who manages to animate the Eiffel Tower, which proceeds to rampage around Paris. This, of course, occurs as the Queen of England is visiting France.
2) The Doctor and Martha Jones team up with G.K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw (at first an unwitting accomplice) to fight a new Cyberman threat in 1926 London.
Feb. 10th, 2009
Our reading group is doing Chesterton now, which can be a bit of a frustration since (a) Chesterton's perspective on economics predates both Keynes and Friedman, which means that a lot of his ideas are now obviously bunk (but he didn't know that at the time) and (b) he has a tendency to shamelessly straw man his opponents. But today he sparked an interesting discussion about the sense of wonder. His basic opinion of "machinery" is that it leads to monotony and the loss of a sense of wonder (that the same argument can be applied to any tool man has ever developed down to the simplest plow or chisel was evidently lost on Chesterton, but I digress). This sparked an interesting tangent which is what I'd like to solicit thoughts on...
Question: How does the sense of wonder relate to the state of original justice (aka pre-fall)?
Position #1: In the state of original justice man always had a sense of wonder about everything. The loss of that sense is a direct product of original sin. (This is directly inspired by Chesterton's position on machinery).
Position #2: Even in the state of original justice, man's finite nature was too small to allow for a sense of wonder at everything he experienced. After all it would be impossible to tend the Garden of Eden (as he was tasked by God) if man were constantly fascinated by how his hand worked or the shape of every leaf he could see. But in the state of original justice man could easily engage his sense of wonder about any particular object (or small set of objects) he so choose, though could not, being finite, wonder about everything at once. Original sin distorted this ability to choose to wonder, making it harder to wonder and giving him a tendency not to do so (This was my counter-speculation).
Feb. 4th, 2009
09:39 pm - Observations...
1) David Tennant's portrayal of The Doctor is outstanding --- The Doctor as a tragic hero. Brilliant!
2) Chairman Mao's cultural revolution has the same roots as G.K. Chesterton's distributism --- the idolization of the farmer and the farming life.
Jul. 13th, 2008
10:14 pm - Inspired by Pubquiz...
... and no, it wasn't the, "British, Gay or Both" audio round, or the multiple choice, "Hillary, Condi or Margaret Thatcher" round.
Instead consider what would happen if Stephen King and Jane Austin co-wrote a novel. :
Setting: Upper crust of late Victorian Maine.
Major Female Characters: Three sisters.
Love Interest #1 (Oldest Sister): A jerk. But she doesn't realize this.
Love Interest #2 (Wild Sister): A werewolf hunter.
Love Interest #3 (Youngest Sister): Doesn't matter as he's dead in the first 75 pages anyway.
You can also swap Stephen King for H.P. Lovecraft:
Setting: Upper crust of late Victorian Massachusetts, near Arkham.
Major Female Characters: Three sisters.
Love Interest #1 (Oldest Sister): A jerk, a grave robber, a diabolist or one trying to raise the dead. Or all of the above. But she doesn't realize this.
Love Interest #2 (Wild Sister): The narrator, who is the unwitting assistant of Love Interest #1 in his infernal exercises.
Love Interest #3 (Youngest Sister): Doesn't matter as he's dead in the first 10 pages anyway.
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