The 13th Century

Micah Exhorting The Israelites, By Gustave Dore. Dore, 1832 – 1883, French. Engraving For The Bible. 1870, Art, Artist, Holy Book, Religion, Religious, Christianity, Christian, Romanticism, Colour, Color Engraving. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

by Nicholas R. Needham

More traditionally minded Roman Catholics have seen the thirteenth century as the golden age of Roman Catholic civilization. Certainly it witnessed the papacy achieving the summit of its power over the politics and culture of Western Europe.

THE REIGN OF POPE INNOCENT III

The pope who presided over this Catholic “high noon” was Innocent III, who was bishop of Rome from 1198 to 1216. His baptismal name was Lothario Conti. Born in 1160, he came from one of Rome’s most ancient aristocratic families. After studying theology and law at Rome, Bologna, and Paris, he lectured at Bologna law school. In 1190, his career took a more churchly turn when he became a cardinal deacon of Rome. Then in 1198, at the young age of 37, he was unanimously elected pope, taking the name Innocent III. He proved to be a skillful, shrewd, far-seeing leader of the church, patient and purposeful, a master at bending even adverse circumstances to his own advantage.

Innocent effected a significant cluster of church reforms. Many of these focused on centralizing the structures of the church around the papacy. For example, Innocent augmented the system of papal legates (ambassadors). A legate was an official who was personally appointed by, and responsible to, the pope. His role was to supervise church affairs in different regions, ensuring that bishops were executing papal policies. Innocent also entrenched the pope’s right to appoint bishops in disputed cases. He famously exercised this right in England, where Innocent forced King John to accept the papal nominee Stephen Langton as archbishop of Canterbury. (In the process, the English monarchy was abjectly humiliated.) In 1199, Innocent decreed the first general income tax on the clergy, to be paid to Rome.

THE FOURTH LATERAN COUNCIL AND TRANSUBSTANTIATION

Innocent’s reforming activities reached their finale in the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. The council enacted wide-ranging reforms relating to the moral conduct of clergy, the importance of preaching, and issues of church discipline. The council, for example, determined that all Christians must confess their sins to their priest at least once a year and receive mass at least once a year at Easter.

The most important enactment of the council concerned the theology of the mass. For the first time, the doctrine of transubstantiation was officially defined. The definition reads:

There is indeed one universal Church of the faithful. Outside this Church, no one at all is saved. Within this Church, the Priest, Jesus Christ, is also Himself the sacrifice. His body and blood are genuinely contained in the sacrament of the altar, beneath the outward appearances of bread and wine. By God’s power, the bread is transubstantiated into Christ’s body, and the wine into His blood. Thus we receive from Him what He received from us [that is, flesh and blood, which Christ received from us in the incarnation]. In this way the mystery of unity [between Christ and the Church] is made concrete. No one can carry out this sacrament except the priest, who has been correctly ordained according to the power of the Church’s keys, which Jesus Christ Himself gave to the apostles and those who followed after them.

The word transubstantiation (change of substance) had been used before 1215 by men such as Hildebert of Tours (d. 1134), but the Fourth Lateran Council made the word and the associated concept official Roman Catholic orthodoxy.

ANTI-JUDAISM

The Council also condemned the teachings of dissenting movements such as the Waldensians and the Cathars (see below). It also required Jews who did not accept Christianity to wear distinctive garb and live in special Jewish areas of towns and cities, segregated from the Christian population. This decree echoed the increasing anti-Judaism that characterized Western society in the later Middle Ages. This attitude led to the expulsion of all Jews from England in 1209, from France in 1306, and then again more effectively from France in 1394. There was a general massacre of Jews in Spain in 1391, and the Spanish monarchy officially expelled them in 1492. The Portuguese expelled them in 1496. Jews were not expelled from Germany due to its lack of centralized government, but popular hatred of Jews was probably strongest there. In 1349, for example, a Christian mob in Strasbourg (which was then in Germany, but today in France) hounded the city’s entire Jewish population—some two thousand people—to the local cemetery and killed all who refused to embrace Christianity.

This popular Christian animosity to unbaptized Jews was inflamed by tales that Jews kidnapped and murdered Christian babies and practiced religious rituals in which they treated the wafer of the mass with blasphemous mockery. There is no reason to believe these tales were true, but they do reveal the social and religious gulf which now yawned between the church and Israel. A more pragmatic explanation for Christian anti-Judaism was that until the close of the Middle Ages, the church prohibited Christians from practicing usury (lending money for interest). Jews stepped into the vacuum and became the great medieval moneylenders. It seemed utterly scandalous to Christians that unbelieving Jews should wield such economic power over them.

RELIGIOUS DISSENT AND THE RISE OF CAPITALISM

One of the greatest challenges facing Innocent III was the great upsurge of religious dissent in Roman Catholic Europe from about 1150 onwards. This mushrooming of dissent was probably connected to serious socioeconomic changes in the Western world at that time. In the Netherlands, western Germany, northern Italy, and France, the growth of towns, cities, trade, and industry was sapping the foundations of the old feudal system. Feudalism had been based on land ownership. Now, however, a new economy was emerging which was based increasingly on money rather than on land. Thus were established the key elements of capitalism (an economic system based on capital, that is, money). As a result of this proto-capitalist economy, the medieval rich became visibly richer, and more numerous; the poor, however, became visibly and shockingly poorer. At the same time, there was significant population growth, so that feudalism’s old land-based way of life was less able to support those who lived in rural areas.

The peasant class lost out badly in this socioeconomic revolution, particularly if they left the overpopulated land and migrated into towns and cities. In the old feudal village, the lord of the manor personally cared for his peasant workers (apart from anything else, he could not afford to let his labor force starve). An unemployed town-dwelling peasant, however, would indeed starve. He no longer belonged to a lord—and to that extent, he had gained freedom. However, along with this freedom came the dissolution of the old feudal bonds of community, which had once ensured that even the poorest people had a place in society and were looked after.

WALDENSIANS AND CATHARS

This loss of the sense of security and belonging, and the development of great social inequality produced a fertile soil in which new religious movements could flourish. The two most widespread of these movements were the Waldensians and the Cathars. The Waldensians originated in Lyons in the 1170s as a movement of lay preachers, whose inspirational founder seems to have been named Valdes. Friction with local episcopal authority, however, eventually drove the Waldensians out of the church. Rather than extinguishing the movement, this enabled it to grow rapidly and spread widely. Unconstrained now by the need to conform to Roman Catholic orthodoxy, the Waldensians evolved into an embryonically “Protestant” movement, anticipating many of the concerns of the sixteenth-century Reformation.

The Cathars are a more controversial movement. A previous generation of Protestant scholars saw them as essentially akin to the Waldensians—an Evangelical movement of dissent. This, then, gave way to the view that they were a basically gnostic movement. Now some modern scholars deny they existed at all. I take the view that they did exist and were basically gnostic. One reason for taking this view is that there was a parallel movement in the Eastern Byzantine world, the Bogomils, who were gnostic—the Eastern Cathars, as it were, whose existence I see no reason to doubt. The Cathars flourished outside the confines of the church (which they denounced as the “Great Whore of Babylon”), and they made a notable impact on southern France, where they were known as Albigensians.

THE ALBIGENSIAN CRUSADE AND THE INQUISITION

The church made attempts to break the Albigensian grip on southern France. Initially these attempts were peaceful, providing the context for the preaching of Dominic, founder of the Dominicans. But a spiral of violence culminated in Pope Innocent III’s proclamation of the twenty-year Albigensian Crusade (1209–29). By the time the crusaders had conquered southern France, not only the Albigensians but the Waldensians, too, had lost their base of operations. (The crusaders did not make much distinction between one heretic and another.) The Waldensian movement, however, found a new and permanent home in the Alpine valleys of northern Italy.

During the Albigensian Crusade, Innocent III took another step towards the centralization of the church around the papacy. He created a system of special legates to root out any surviving heretics in southern France. Prior to this, the church had left the investigation of heresy to local bishops, who were often uninterested or incompetent. Innocent transformed the investigation of heresy into a centrally controlled Europe-wide operation. His actions laid the foundations for what in 1227 became the “inquisition” (or “holy office,” as it was officially called). The inquisition was a separate organization within the church that was free from episcopal control, subject only to the pope, and devoted entirely to unmasking and punishing heretics. It grew into the most feared organization of the later Middle Ages. Once the inquisition had accused a person of heresy, it was virtually impossible for him to prove his innocence. Those who confessed received financial penalties or acts of penance such as going on a pilgrimage. Those who refused to confess received varying degrees of punishment. Depending on the gravity of their error, some had all their assets confiscated, others were incarcerated perhaps for life, and the gravest offenders were handed over to the civil authorities to be burnt at the stake.

The inquisition forced dissenting movements to meet in secret. This is the chief reason why we know so little about the history of religious dissent in later medieval Europe compared with what we know of the Roman Catholic Church itself.

THE MENDICANTS

It was also during the era of Innocent III that the new “mendicant” (begging) orders of friars flourished—chiefly the Dominicans and Franciscans, but also the Augustinians, Carmelites, and others. You can read more about these orders later on in this issue of Tabletalk. Suffice it here to say that they harnessed and unleashed new torrents of spiritual and intellectual energy, some of which would ultimately have surprising consequences. Think of that most famous Augustinian friar, Martin Luther.

SCHOLASTIC THEOLOGY

The twelfth and thirteenth centuries witnessed a rich blossoming of knowledge, especially theology and philosophy, in Western Christendom. It reached its high point in the thirteenth century, which was the age par excellence of scholastic theology.

“Scholastic theology” means “school theology,” and the “school” in question was the university. Western universities began to take shape around the middle of the twelfth century, with Paris and Bologna leading the way. A fully developed university would come to have four departments or “faculties,” teaching theology, law, medicine, and the arts. The driving aim was that the university should be a center for storing and propagating the sum total of human knowledge.

The theologians who taught in the universities—the scholastic theologians or schoolmen—developed a distinctive approach to theology. We can summarize this as follows.

• 1. Faith and Reason

Scholastic theologians were marked by a vibrant interest in the relationship between faith and reason. What could human reason discover about God by investigating creation without referring to the Bible? For example, what could pure reason ascertain of a divine Creator, the Trinity, or providence? If a revealed truth could not be established by reason alone, could it still be shown to be in harmony with reason? For instance, even if unaided reason cannot discover the Trinity, can we still show that the Trinity does not contradict reason? Can something be false from the standpoint of reason, yet true according to the standpoint of revelation?

• 2. Systematic Theology

Scholastic theologians wanted to offer a complete account of Christian truth. This meant probing a particular doctrine logically from every point of view. A typical schoolman would, however, go further and try to bring the entire body of revealed truth together into a system of theology. They called such a system a summa (summary). In seeking to construct a universal system of truth, the schoolmen sometimes expended time and energy on issues which most Christians today would probably think pointless. Could God have become incarnate as an animal or as a woman? Can one angel be in two places at the same time? Can two angels be in the same place at the same time? Who sinned the most, Adam or Eve?

• 3. Philosophy

The schoolmen were both the theologians and the philosophers of the Middle Ages. They hoped to give a complete account not just of Church teaching but of all truth. So they did not restrict themselves to theological issues. They would try to answer the deep philosophical questions, too. What is matter? What is mind? What is morality? What is time? What is space? What is being? What is the nature of cause and effect?

THE REDISCOVERY OF ARISTOTLE

In the thirteenth century, scholastic theology increasingly exploited the philosophy of the great pagan thinker Aristotle (384–22 BC ). A few of Aristotle’s works had been known to the early schoolmen in Latin translation. However, the entire corpus of Aristotle’s writings became available in Latin in the 1100s. This was largely owing to two great Islamic philosophers, the Persian Avicenna (980–1037) and the Spanish Averroës (1126–98). They translated Aristotle from Greek into Arabic for the benefit of the Islamic world. Christian scholars then translated the Arabic, along with Islamic commentaries on Aristotle, into Latin for the benefit of the Christian world. Arabic translations of Aristotle found their way into Christian Europe chiefly through Muslim Spain. (Remember that Spain was under Islamic rule during much of the Middle Ages.)

Roman Catholic Europe’s rediscovery of Aristotle had a huge intellectual impact. In Aristotle, Christians found an understanding of God, humanity, and the cosmos which seemed logical, comprehensive, and persuasive—all worked out without any reference to the Bible. Some of Aristotle’s teachings, however, contradicted the Bible. For instance, Aristotle taught that the cosmos had existed from eternity.

Initially, many Roman Catholic theologians reacted against Aristotle, seeing his philosophy as a dangerous alternative to Christianity. Many traditional theologians preferred Plato to Aristotle in matters of philosophy, especially since Augustine of Hippo, the greatest Western theologian, had been a Platonist. There was a campaign to ban the study of Aristotle’s writings. For a time, this anti-Aristotelian movement enjoyed some success. However, by the thirteenth century, the tide had turned in Aristotle’s favor, and scholastic theologians began regarding him as the great pagan precursor of Christian truth whose philosophy was uniquely suited to ground, express, and commend the theology of the church. The greatest of the Aristotelian schoolmen was Thomas Aquinas (1225–74), who is covered in a later article in this magazine. Other outstanding scholastic theologians of the thirteenth century included Alexander of Hales (1170–1245), Albertus Magnus (1193– 1280), Bonaventura (1221–74), and Duns Scotus (1265–1308). The tradition of Aristotelian Theology has continued down to our own day, largely among Roman Catholics, but with some Protestant support (for example, the Italian Reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli, Anglican theologian Richard Hooker, and some aspects of Lutheran and Reformed scholasticism).

EAST-WEST RELATIONS: THE FOURTH CRUSADE

Relations between the Western Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches plunged to an all-time low in the thirteenth century. Innocent III proclaimed the Fourth Crusade, and the crusaders (almost wholly French) set out in October 1202. They had intended to seize Egypt from Muslim control. However, they were being carried in ships provided by the Italian trading republic of Venice, and Venice insisted that the Crusaders first conquer the city of Zara (in modern Croatia) as part of the city’s payment. Zara had recently seceded from the Venetian empire. So, the Fourth Crusade began with the crusaders shedding the blood of fellow Christians as they stormed Zara. Innocent III was outraged and excommunicated both the French and the Venetians. He eventually forgave the French crusaders on their professions of repentance, but he refused to lift the sentence from the Venetians.

At this point Alexius Angelus, son of deposed Byzantine emperor Isaac II, diverted the French and Venetian force yet again. Alexius promised the Crusaders large payment and the submission of the Eastern Orthodox Church to the papacy if they would help him gain the throne of the Byzantine Empire. The Venetians welcomed Alexius’s proposal because they wanted to secure control of all Eastern trade. Innocent III forbade the crusaders to fight the Byzantines, but they ignored Innocent, went to Constantinople, and placed Alexius on the throne. When, however, Alexius could not keep his extravagant promises of payment, the French and Venetians besieged Constantinople, capturing it in April 1204. The triumphant Crusaders looted the Byzantine capital’s fabulous treasures. A French noble, Baldwin of Flanders, became emperor of a new Roman Catholic kingdom of Constantinople, and other French nobles shared out large parts of the Byzantine Empire among themselves. The new rulers of Byzantium set up a Roman Catholic patriarch of Constantinople and made the Eastern Orthodox Church subject to the pope. Even so, except where Western force constrained them, the Orthodox Christians of the East scorned the papacy, remaining loyal to their own church and their own patriarch.

The Fourth Crusade was one of the darkest episodes in Christian history. For the first time, a crusading army fought fellow Christians, both Roman Catholics in Zara and Eastern Orthodox in Constantinople, merely for material gain. The Byzantine Empire received a mortal injury from which it never really recovered. Even though the Byzantines recaptured Constantinople in 1261, the empire finally fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Thus, an enduring legacy of deep hatred for the Western church was left among the Eastern Orthodox.

Dr. Nicholas Needham is minister of Inverness Reformed Baptist Church in Inverness, Scotland, and lecturer in church history at Highland Theological College in Dingwall, Scotland. He is author of the multivolume work 2,000 Years of Christ’s Power.

VIDEO Has The Church Lost The Fear Of The Lord

 June 17, 2014  by Shane Idleman

(When the word “church” is used, I’m referring to the church collectively, as a whole, rather than “all” churches.)

​As war rages in the Middle East, and the potential for nuclear war intensifies, the church is asleep at the wheel. Many Christians mock difficult messages ​from the pulpit and the pen. They despise the heat of conviction and scoff at those who seek God unconditionally.​

The present condition of the church leaves one to wonder if the lack of the fear of the Lord is contributing to her spiritually dead condition: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:15-17). A healthy respect of God (fear) is what our culture, and the church, desperately need.

​We must turn to God’s truth and away from the broad road that leads to destruction. We must repent, ask for forgiveness, and seek restoration. We should not apologize for promoting the fear of the Lord​.

​The fear of the Lord is mentioned frequently throughout the Bible as the beginning of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.” Sadly, I’ve had similar conversation with emergent, post-modern, and liberal pastors. My concern is that this view is coming from leadership. They feel that we should avoid mentioning the fear of the Lord because it makes people feel uncomfortable. Just writing that sentence makes me feel uncomfortable. “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him…” (Psalm 147:11). Joshua encouraged the people to “fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness” (24:14).

It’s clear from Genesis to Revelation that we are to “serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11). Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Jesus spoke more on the fear of hell than on the glory of heaven. He thought it to be timely and urgent. “That makes me both love Him and fear Him! I love Him because He is my Savior, and I fear Him because He is my Judge” (A.W. Tozer).

The overall direction of the church away from the fear of the Lord is a sad reality. It is an indication that we may fear men more than God. Those who avoid teaching the fear of the Lord to soften the message are missing the balance. We are running from the very thing we need: “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come” (Revelation 14:7). Acts 9:31 says that the early church walked “in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.” Did you catch that: the church was powerful and multiplied because they walked in the fear of God (not man), and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Anointing and fear go hand-in-hand. Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:12 that we should work out (not work for) our own salvation with “fear and trembling.”

We must lovingly proclaim the fear of the Lord again in our pulpits if we are to experience genuine change. Fear often motivates a person to repent. The fear of the Lord will cause an adulterer to seek forgiveness. It will motivate the prodigal to return. It will cause pastors to spend extended time in prayer for anointed sermons. When the fear of the Lord is preached the world will repent: “Falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you” (1 Corinthians 14:25). A true fear of the Lord saves man from himself. We should take His commands seriously…not legalistically, but reverently.

Fearing the Lord isn’t the type of fear one would have toward an abusive father, but rather, it’s the type of fear that involves respect and reverence for God. For example, we fear jumping off a 100-story building because we respect gravity. Fear, in this sense, is good and God-given; it protects us.

It is often through reverent fear that we come to Christ and redemption. The church cannot neglect, water-down, or avoid preaching the fear of the Lord in the hope of not offending, or securing an audience. The fear of the Lord offends, and rightly so. The goal of the church is faithfulness to God, not crowd appeal. The church, as a whole, may have forgotten the fear of the Lord, but it doesn’t follow that we should.​

Shane Idleman is the founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, California, just North of Los Angeles. He recently released his 7th book, Desperate for More of God. Shane’s sermons, articles, books, and radio program can all be found at www.WCFAV.org. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/confusedchurch.​

Has The Church Lost The Fear Of The Lord

How to Shepherd Your Flock in a Politically Charged World

Trevin Wax

Everything gets politicized these days. It’s never been easier for churches to also get caught up in waves of political enthusiasm and social activism.

So, what should a pastor do when their fellow church members see needs and want to meet them, see injustice and want to stop it, or see a good cause and want to support it?

First, we should rejoice! When a church does a good job equipping people to think and live as Christians in a fallen world, the people become like rivers overflowing the banks of the church gathered (the lake). The landscape changes when there are lakes and rivers. But not all lakes need to be rivers.

So what do you do when one person wants their passion to be the primary passion for the whole church? 

There are no easy answers to this question because every church and every community and every activist is a different mix of personalities and passions. But here are some principles to keep in mind.

1. Demote the political sphere while encouraging your politically active members.

For too many in our society, politics is everything. In This Is Our Time, I write about the politicization of everything, where politics has become a religion. Our country is still faith-filled; it is just that today our faith is misplaced. Too often, it’s directed toward government, not God. And many of our frustrations come when we realize government can’t ultimately save us. It was never meant to. Peggy Noonan writes: “When politics becomes a religion, then simple disagreements become apostasies, heresies. And you know what we do with heretics.”

All around us are people who believe the myth that politics is the only real place where you can effect change or transform the world. When you think that laws are the most important factor in changing the world, then every battle must be fought to the end. Otherwise, you’re sacrificing the cause!

The gospel challenges that myth. It tells us that the political sphere is just one area in which change can take place. It helps us put the political in a broader context, to realize that it is not everything. All gains are temporary, but so are all setbacks. Even if we lose a political cause, we can still be faithful. We are called always to witness, not always to win.

With all of this in mind, pastors should demote politics to its proper place, while simultaneously encouraging Christians who are active in their community. Understanding that the political sphere is not ultimate does not mean we should retreat. We cannot be indifferent, hoping to enter our houses of worship or our closets for prayer, as if holiness is all personal and private. No, the apostle Peter calls us to holiness and honor as a way of being on mission in this world. “Holiness is not supposed to be cloaked in the chambers of pious hearts,” says theologian Vince Bacote, “but displayed in the public domains of home, school, culture, and politics.”

2. Be aware of how quickly the uniting factor of a congregation can become a cause rather than the cross. 

Once you have demoted the political sphere to its proper place and encouraged your church members to remain active, you should keep an eye on what is at the center of your preaching and teaching. It is easy for the unifying factor of a church to become what we do for others instead of what Christ has done for us.

A church’s unity for a cause can eventually displace the cross. The gospel is still there, but it’s no longer in the center. Something else is uniting the church – a political cause, social work, a community ministry.

Why does this matter? Because we want long-term fruitfulness in our communities.

When you put the gospel at the center, various ministry opportunities will come alongside as demonstrations of the power of Christ’s work on the cross. But when you put a cause at the center, various ministry opportunities may flourish for a time but then wither away, because they are no longer connected to the source of life that can sustain such activism.

3. Guard the platform of your church.

As a pastor, you’ve probably received multiple self-invitations to take “just a few minutes” of precious platform time to give a report or make a congregation aware of a need. Whether it’s people spreading Bibles around the world, missionaries coming home from furlough, medical missionaries providing essential healthcare or pro-life opportunities… everyone wants just a few minutes. Except for the congregation. They expect you to say “no” and protect them from the countless ministry opportunities that could be presented every week.

Do your congregation a favor and guard the platform of your church. Only put activities in the bulletin that correspond to your church’s mission and presence in the community. You can’t be a megaphone for every single thing people in your church want to promote.

4. Observe your church’s particular gifts and passions, and provide opportunities for community involvement.

Right now, our church is involved with tutoring elementary school students down the street. We’re helping plant a church in Cincinnati. We’ve celebrated when families have adopted children from overseas, and we’ve hosted fundraisers to help them offset the cost. We’re assisting refugees being resettled in our area.

These are ways that our church is ministering to the community. Enough people in the congregation were involved in the need for the church to realize it could help facilitate some of this good ministry.

J. D. Greear lays out three approaches to individual ministries – Own, Catalyze, and Bless. He explains it this way:

To “own” a ministry means we staff and resource it directly.

Those we “bless” are those we know our members are engaged in, but as an institution we have little interaction with them other than the occasional encouragement. 

But the third category, “catalyze,” is where we put most of our energy. When we catalyze something, we identify members with ideas and ask them to lead us. We come alongside them, adding our resources, networking power, etc. We serve them. And that means sometimes they don’t do things exactly the way I would prefer. But in the long run, an empowered church catalyzed to do ministry will do more gospel-good in the community than if the church owns and staffs all its own ministries.

5. Publicly affirm and bless the kind of activism you want to see.

This is perhaps the most important thing you can do. Lift up examples of people who are the kind of activists you want to see.

When you hear of people in your congregation doing good in the community, don’t be shy in letting the rest of the church know. What you celebrate, you become.

If You Want To Know The Future Of America Peer Into The Looking-Glass Of Europe

By William D. Howard

When Notre Dame Cathedral burned in 2019, it was symbolic of a greater European -wide collapse of religious faith which had already taken place.  That great cathedral, like most of the others in Europe, had long since passed from being a vibrant community of active worshipers, to an architectural show piece attracting millions of tourists, taking millions of photographs.

  The process which has brought about the death of Judeo-Christian culture in Europe is now being replicated in America. If America wants to know its grim future, it only has to consult the facts of present day European society. 

    From the earliest days of American history, religion played an outsized role. Even during the 1700’s when it was intellectually fashionable for some of our leaders like Thomas Jefferson to scoff at supernaturalism and prefer deism to theism, they still held tightly to the moral and spiritual truths expressed in the Holy Bible.  They could do without belief in miracles in general but not the necessary miracle of a creator God who established an unchanging moral order.  French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville, who had visited America in the 1800’s, took particular note of America’s highly religious national character as compared to European society. He knew the horrors which French society was plunged into as a result of extreme, anti-religious, sentiment. The history of the world is littered with failed revolutions that promised to remake their societies, in a better image. The American Revolution is among the few which have actually succeeded.

  The bad news is that we are now no longer on the same path. We have opted for the European model.

   The last sixty years of American history reveal that we have been on a new path. It is a path that leads away from freedom and individual responsibility. It is a path that mistakes vice for freedom and socialism for progress and because Europe began this journey before us, we can now see our future, In their present

  If we begin with a comparison of religious practice, the surveys of American society show a number between 37% and 22% for Americans who attend weekly services.

    The average of these numbers which is below 30% is the lowest in modern American history but if you are a person of faith in Europe, you would be celebrating this as the sign of a “Great Religious “revival. The average church attendance for the countries of Northern Europe is 4%. There are only three countries in Europe where more than 10% of young people attend religious services on a weekly basis.

What must be understood are the characteristics of this new post-Judeo-Christian Europe?  What does the sociological data tell us is happening there?  Sociologists, psychologists and historians, all agree on one point, the family unit is the basis of all societies. The present European family is in a state of crisis. As much as we lament America’s high divorce rate of 53%, Europe’s is higher, in some countries reaching 60% but worse than the high divorce rates are the high out of wedlock birth rates and the huge increase in single parent families. The, “Max Planck Society” published the following in 2016,

“The significance of marriage slowly started to decline as early as 1970, a process linked to the advance of secularization in many countries… By 1990, the share of unmarried births had already increased fourfold… In many parts of Northern and Western Europe, there are already more births out of wedlock than births within marriage.”

  Needless to say the same process is taking place in America .The difference is America’s religious attendance was much higher than Europe’s when the process started. We are moving in the same direction as Europe but at a slower pace.

  The fact that European societies are still relatively prosperous  and orderly in spite of these demographic changes is only a testament to what historian Will Durant called , “… living in the after- glow of one’s faith”. No society will collapse immediately, but already these changes are showing themselves in a variety of dark statistics.

  The crisis in the European family is rapidly becoming a mental health crisis.   

  The most recent large scale study of Europe, covering 514 million people found that mental illness had increased to 38%.

  Based upon World Health Organization statistics, Europeans commit more suicide than the people of any other region of the world.  Russia has the highest rate, followed by other Eastern European nations all of which were until recent years ruled by Communist governments which viewed religion as taboo. Following these Eastern European nations the most secular parts of Western and Northern Europe have the next highest rates of suicide. The more traditional and culturally conservative parts of Europe have the lowest rates of suicide.   Lagging behind Europe, America is making great strides to catch-up. The CDC reported in 2018 that America now has the highest rate of suicide in 50 years.   

  In Europe this is not just a problem of highly depressed people wanting to end their lives. There is a concerted effort on the part of medical professionals to assist others in doing so. Belgium now carries the label of the, “world’s euthanasia capital” and even allows suicide by lethal injection for children.  

Following the same guiding principle of utility, Europe is now number four on the list of continents which carry-out the most abortions. The fact that the primary victim of an abortion is an unborn child without a voice makes the problem easier to ignore. Much harder to ignore is the explosion in Human Trafficking taking place in Europe.

  The Department of Homeland Security has described the problem of Human Trafficking, as a “… modern day form of slavery… among the world’s fastest growing criminal industries.” BusinessLine, reported in 2019 that, “… children now account for 30 per cent of those being trafficked… Trafficking for sexual exploitation is the most prevalent form in European countries…”

  Three of the top ten areas for sex tourism are located in Europe and all the others are located in poor less developed regions of the world. In America the same thing is happening. Feminists, pro-homosexual rights advocates, cultural celebrities, are using terms like, “Pan sexual”, “gender fluidity” and “One Love” to begin the major re-education of American society.  Harvard professor Sarah Richardson a supporter of this task has described the necessary change in this way,

  “Young people will lead us in directions that we have never imagined… more and more young people are transcending gender norms… a more sophisticated view of gender seems to be everywhere we look…. Is expanding our ideas of identify and love.”

  Well the Europeans have both imagined and are realizing this “Brave New World” and the “New Morality” looks a lot like the “Old Immorality”. The imagined utopian welfare state of Europe is now being realized for what it is, a dystopian society where the soul of mankind dies and selfish appetites reign. In America we are faithfully re-tracing the European steps which include: The death of faith, the death of the family, and the de-humanization of mankind.

William D. Howard is a freelance writer who has been published in both secular and religious formats. He had a long career as an educator and has traveled in over 40 countries.


VIDEO Why the State Won’t Tolerate Independence for Christianity – Has Science Buried God?

By Zachary Yost March 11, 2021

On February 25, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, a bill that is touted as a step forward for civil rights in the United States. If enacted, the bill would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the federally protected classes that cannot be discriminated against and would expand where such protections are applied. While expanding such protections is not necessarily widely opposed (Mormon Republican Chris Stewart has introduced the Fairness for All Act as an alternative bill), the act explicitly says that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 cannot be invoked, and this has generated tremendous concern that both private businesses and religious institutions will be forced to toe the current cultural line regarding sexual and gender ideology, or else face discrimination suits and be sued into oblivion.

Organizations such as the Heritage Foundation and Christianity Today have argued against the bill on the basis of its effects on religious institutions, private schools, the legal rights of parents, and women’s athletics. While a discussion of such effects is important, the conversation has largely been missing the broader context of where this legislation and the numerous other proposals like it emerge from.

In his important essay “The Balance of Power in Society” sociologist Frank Tannenbaum argues that “society is possessed by a series of irreducible institutions, perennial through time, that in effect both describe man and define the basic role he plays.” These perennial institutions are the state, the church, the family, and the market. These institutions have eternally striven against each other to gain dominance and become what sociologist Robert Nisbet would call the primary reference group for its members, meaning the primary way in which they understand themselves and shape their beliefs and actions. At various times we can see one group coming to dominate the others, such as when the “trustee” form of family dominated social life in clan-based societies, or when the Roman Catholic Church exhibited tremendous power over the political affairs of Europe. Currently, we live in an epoch where the state has come to dominate social life to an extent never previously seen in human history.

It is useful to analyze the Equality Act from this perspective to truly understand its full implications. State hostility towards religion and the religious institutions through which religion is exercised is not driven solely, or in some cases even primarily, by the current secular zeitgeist. Rather, religion and religious institutions represent a major obstacle to the exercise of state control and the centralization of social power. In the Western context, orthodox Christianity especially poses a threat to this agenda due to its adherents’ membership in a kingdom “not of this world.” It is difficult for the immanent state to compete to be the primary reference for people who, by virtue of their religion, are members of a transcendent order.

However, it cannot be denied that the state has been very successful in undermining and sapping the power of religious institutions through two different means. The first is by expropriating those mundane areas of social responsibility and function that have traditionally been the purview of the church, such as charity and education. While churches are still involved in such things, the state has supplanted them as the primary social institution that provides them.

As Nisbet argues in his book The Quest for Community, a social group cannot survive for long if its chief functional purpose is lost, and unless new institutional functions are adapted, the group’s “psychological influence will be minimal.” No doubt the state has succeeded in centralizing so much power due to its success in poaching the historical functions of the church and family.

I noted above that in the Western context the emphasis of orthodox Christianity on transcendental concerns has proven to be a stumbling block to the state when it comes to becoming citizens’ primary reference group. However, the state has also attempted to muscle into that territory as well. Earlier I classified the state and the church as being two different institutions with separate functions. While this is often true, especially in the West due to the Augustinian formulation of the City of God and the Earthly City, in various times in history the functions have been unified.

In his work The Political Religions, political theorist Eric Voegelin explored this idea and traced its earliest sophisticated formulation back to Amenhotep IV/Akhenaton, a fourteenth-century BC pharaoh who temporarily upended Egyptian civilization by abolishing the old deities and introducing the monotheistic worship of the sun god Aton. By abolishing the old gods (references to traditional deities were eradicated and Amenhotep changed his name so that it no longer referenced the old god Amon), the newly named Akhenaton also abolished the old priesthood as well. What was new and innovative about Aton was that he was not just a limited god of Egypt, but in fact the god of the universe, who speaks and acts through his son, the Pharaoh. By obliterating the old gods such as Osiris, Voegelin argued that Akhenaton abolished those aspects of the Egyptian religion that were of the utmost importance to individuals, such as judgment and life after death, and replaced them only with a collective political religion of empire. This inability to fulfill the spiritual needs of the people, combined with the reaction of the defrocked priestly caste, led to backlash and restoration of the old order after the death of Akhenaton, when it was his turn to be obliterated from history.

Voegelin traces this idea of political religion through the ages and argues that Christianity, through the work of Augustine, seriously upended “the cosmos of the divinely analogous state” by subordinating the political-temporal sphere to the spiritual one. For hundreds of years this understanding dominated medieval Europe, but with the advent of the Enlightenment began to crack apart under a succession of philosophers, most notably Thomas Hobbes with his conception of the Leviathan state. However, Voegelin notes that over time, as the world has secularized, the political religions have closed themselves off to claims of being the conduit for God’s action on earth and instead have come to embody immanent forces such as “the order of history” or “the order of blood.” Metaphysics and religion have been banished in favor of a vocabulary of “science” that is “inner-worldly” and therefore closed off to what Voegelin would call the ground of being through which humans experience transcendent reality.

In the United States, our political religion takes the form of progressivism, which itself is the product of Protestant clergy who abandoned orthodoxy in the nineteenth century in favor of an immanent ideology in which the US would serve as the instrument to build God’s kingdom on earth. In his essay “The Progressive Era and the Family,” Murray Rothbard traces this movement to the rise of what he terms “evangelical pietism” and the way in which it altered traditional doctrine to require that man work for his own salvation by working for the salvation of the rest of the world through its immanent reformation.

The song “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was one product of this way of thinking and, in the words of one Voegelin scholar, its author “transforms Christ’s redemptive mission—which is not of this world—into the world immanent social activism of the Anti‑Slavery movement.” Rather than waiting for Christ to return, when he shall establish a new heaven and a new earth, the progressive creed held that it is the job of every true Christian to redeem the fallen world and to build God’s kingdom on earth right now. The Civil War was understood as one such redemptive episode (complete with a martyr in the form of Abe Lincoln), as was the First World War. In his book The War for Righteousness, historian Richard M. Gamble documents the way in which Progressive Protestant clergy led the charge to bring the US into the war with hopes of redeeming the world. Like Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson was perceived as a tragic martyr for the cause and was viewed with clearly religious veneration.

While the American political religion began by attempting to build the kingdom of God on earth, it has, in Voegelin’s term, ended up as an “inner-worldly” religion that does not even attempt to maintain a connection to the transcendent order of reality, and instead justifies itself as being the conduit through which the inexorable march of “progress” flows forth. Democracy and equality, not the return of Christ, are the new end of history.

The end result is that the state seeks to not only supplant religious institutions by usurping their mundane functions but by usurping their spiritual functions as well. Like the priests of Akhenaton’s day, American religious institutions, especially orthodox Christian ones, are both a competing pole of social power and the manifestation of a rival religion that must be subdued if the “State-God,” in the words of J.R.R. Tolkien, is to prevail.

In this context, with legislation like the Equality Act the state is not only seeking to further erode the social power of religious institutions by making religious education or adoption more difficult, but it is also advancing a rival religious doctrine at the same time by foisting progressive sexual and gender ideology on society.

It is likely that the Equality Act will not manage to pass the Senate in its current form, but the reality of the situation is that as long as the progressive political religion remains a potent force in American life, independent repositories of social power such as the family and the church will continually be under sustained attack. We can only hope that one day progressivism will meet the same fate that Aton did after the passing of Akhenaton, but until then, those who do not adhere to the cult of the “State-god” can only resist its impositions as best we can.

Author: Zachary Yost

Zachary Yost is a freelance writer and Mises U alum. You can subscribe to his newsletter here.

https://mises.org/wire/why-state-wont-tolerate-independence-christianity


John Lennox: Has Science Buried God?


There’s no such thing as ‘safe sex’ for kids

By John Stonestreet and Maria Baer

n 1984, only 14 percent of Americans wore seat belts. Anyone else remember bouncing unrestrained around the back of the family station wagon like I did? Three years later, after seat belt laws were enacted in 30 states, that percentage tripled to 42 percent. Last year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 90 percent of Americans faithfully buckled up while on the roads.

We often say politics is downstream from culture. That’s mostly true. While laws tend to reflect ideas and trends already embedded in the larger culture, especially in the arts, education, and business, the state still has significant power to influence behavior and the larger culture as well.

In the case of the seatbelt, the state wielded its power for good. However, the same power can be used to normalize beliefs or behavior that are not good. That risk is greater in cultures already sliding down the slippery moral slope.

For example, Vermont recently became the first state to mandate that every public middle and high school make free condoms available to students. The bill’s sponsor, a Republican state lawmaker, believes that this new law will reduce teenage pregnancies, and therefore abortions. Strangely enough, the sponsor does not seem to think the law will normalize and increase sexual behavior among teenagers.

Why the assumption that the law only incentivizes desirable outcomes but not undesirable ones?

According to most contemporary studies, sexual activity among teens is way down. Though these studies typically fail to include porn addiction as sexual activity, we can all agree that fewer teens experimenting sexually is a good thing. At the same time, these studies show that adults often misunderstand the culture and incentives affecting teenage sexual behavior.

For example, a 2017 Harvard study found that the scale of the so-called “hook-up” culture among teens was “overestimated.” In other words, all the movies, TV programming and news coverage portraying American high school kids as highly sexually active are wrong. In fact, these Harvard researchers found that the way “hook-up” culture is so often portrayed actually propagates it, putting more pressure on teenagers to have sex. 

Similarly flawed thinking is behind Vermont’s new legislation. Lawmakers and educators, by assuming teens are sexually active and suggesting in public policy that we should all resign ourselves to helping them do it “safely,” only add pressure and incentives to the already-fragile equation of media, hormones, and opportunity.

I find it a bit strange–and ironic–that lawmakers and other cultural elites who are so quick to claim power simply throw up their hands and claim to be powerless when it comes to sexual activity among young people. “Well, the kids are going to do it anyway,” they say. “We might as well enable it.”

What if lawmakers back in 1984 said, “Well, looks like no one’s wearing their seat belts. We might as well accept that risky behavior and increase the speed limit while we’re at it”? That would have been absurd. So, why is that the approach so many adults take when it comes to sex?

That’s not a rhetorical question. A culture that already views sex as the core feature of our identity finds the suggestion that we teach kids not to have it unthinkable. A culture that views sex as the pinnacle of human existence will consider any parameters on sexual behaviors to be emotionally, spiritually and physically dangerous. In other words, what has changed is not merely our moral standards, but our entire view of the universe and the human person.

Every available metric of social and mental health suggest that today’s kids are more depressed, more anxious, and feel more lonely and isolated than any generation before them. The last thing young people need is adults telling them that “no-strings-attached” sex is a good idea. Or even possible. We have the data.

Teens who engage in sexual activity are more likely to be depressed than other teens. They’re more likely to attempt suicide. Two-thirds of kids who reported having sex in high school told researchers in a 2000 study that they regretted it. Kids who abstain from sex are also more likely to go to college. Free condoms for kids will only lead to more loneliness, more isolation, and more pain.

At each and every stage of the sexual revolution, the promise has been that “the kids will be fine.” They aren’t. “Safe sex” for children is a misnomer. Neither schools nor governments should incentivize behavior we know will harm students, but that’s exactly what Vermont is doing. We should do all we can to ensure other states don’t follow suit.

Originally posted at breakpoint.org

From BreakPoint. Reprinted with the permission of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. “BreakPoint®” and “The Colson Center for Christian Worldview®” are registered trademarks of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

John Stonestreet is the President of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and co-host with Eric Metaxas of Breakpoint, the Christian worldview radio program founded by the late Chuck Colson. He is co-author of A Practical Guide to CultureA Student’s Guide to Culture and Restoring All Things

https://www.christianpost.com/voices/theres-no-such-thing-as-safe-sex-for-kids.html

These Out-Of-Print Children’s Biographies Repudiate The Bitter Lies Of Today’s Uneducated Anti-Americans

Forty years ago, as my children’s book collection proves, grade-school history pedagogy offered a diverse and inclusive narrative about our national past.

These Out-Of-Print Children’s Biographies Repudiate The Bitter Lies Of Today’s Uneducated Anti-Americans

By Casey Chalk

This month marks 143 years since Chief Joseph, leader of the Pacific Northwest Indian tribe the Nez Percé, surrendered to a U.S. Army detachment in northern Montana. There the warrior famously declared, “From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.”

Others, however, are still eager to keep up the fight in the name of indigenous people. Demonstrators affiliated with the Miwok Tribe in San Rafael, California, on Oct. 13 vandalized and tore down yet another statue of Franciscan missionary Junipero Serra. Other ersatz torch-bearers of the cause include those municipalities, such as Baltimore and the District of Columbia, that have recently changed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

The first place I read of Chief Joseph’s famous speech was in a children’s biography of him, published more than 40 years ago by Troll Associates. It was one of many titles Troll released in the 1970s and 1980s honoring Native Americans such as Black Hawk, Osceola, Pocahontas, Pontiac, Sacagawea, Squanto, and Sitting Bull. I was fascinated by all things American Indian. These titles were part of my childhood library as an elementary student in the early 1990s. I still own them and have read them to my own grade-school children.

Troll’s canon of American biographies for kids extended far beyond Native American heroes. There were biographies honoring the best of baseball, such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Jackie Robinson. Other books memorialized our nation’s first leaders: George Washington, John Adams, John Paul Jones, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe. Still, others paid tribute to later great Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Clara Barton, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, and even actress and singer Pearl Bailey. No one could accuse Troll of not being inclusive of women or minorities.

Many Older Books Don’t Whitewash the Past

Also among Troll’s biographies of historical American figures was one of Christopher Columbus. “Of all the explorers in history, none made a greater contribution to the world than Christopher Columbus. He was more than an extraordinary navigator and sailor. Columbus was a man of vision and determination,” reads the introduction by author Rae Bains.

Bains also notes many of those who followed Columbus in colonizing the New World for Spain were greedy and “became angry and disillusioned.” And Columbus ultimately fell out of favor at the Spanish royal court and “died a deeply disappointed man.” The author might not indulge the reader in the brutal details of Spanish colonization, but this portrayal is far from saccharine.

Bains’s biography of Columbus certainly doesn’t employ the absurd and erroneous assertions we find in contemporary portrayals of the explorer. “Native Hawaiian advocate” Lopaka Purdy in a recent Washington Post article claims, “Columbus should be considered the progenitor of white supremacy. Let us remember him for that. … Columbus is famous because he was a thief. That was his impact.”

Purdy should also consider Columbus’s purposes and contributions. As for the anachronistic charge that Columbus is the “progenitor of white supremacy,” one might as well charge Alexander the Great with inventing imperialism or Genghis Khan with toxic masculinity.

The difference between Troll’s and today’s portrayals of American history is that the former actually tried to tell a coherent, inclusive narrative about our nation, one that sought to find unifying themes among a diverse and disparate set of characters. Native American heroes such as Osceola and Sitting Bull are rightly lauded for their love of their people and their homes, and for courageously resisting what was often unjust, unsympathetic, and racist attacks on their way of life.

We celebrate Washington and Jefferson because they made unparalleled contributions to American politics and history. We honor Thurgood Marshall and Rosa Parks because they represent our nation’s continued struggle to right past wrongs and fully realize the unprecedented vision of our founding political documents.

Sympathy unites all of these children’s biographies. The biography of Robert E. Lee, also by Bains, largely focuses on his childhood, which was marked by great familial upheaval. His father, Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, despite being a Revolutionary War hero and a Virginia politician, was incompetent and negligent, spent time in debtors’ prison, and for a time lived in the West Indies. He died on the return journey to Virginia when Robert was 11. “Robert had a difficult childhood,” observed Bains, who devoted far more attention to Lee’s resilience and virtue at West Point and in the U.S. military than his role as the Confederacy’s greatest general.

Kids Need to Learn the Complexities of History

Eliciting empathy in the child reader is an essential educational objective because it is required for both civic and family responsibility. As this year proves, our political climate is in sore need of more of it. Learning of the struggles, failures, hopes, and achievements of historical Americans engenders that virtue. Limiting Columbus and Lee or Washington and Jefferson to a simplistic, binary narrative of white, patriarchal oppression not only doesn’t do their stories justice, but it also short-circuits the maturation process via reductionist tropes.

Telling kids that their history is full of racist patriarchs fosters cynicism and a Manichean, self-destructive understanding of the past in which some people, namely oppressors, are evil and to be censured; others, namely the oppressed, are good and to be praised. It is this kind of blinkered, perverse thinking that provokes the continued desecration and destruction of our national heritage. Unable to see ourselves in our collective past, we tear it down with impunity.

What Troll sought to accomplish with its American biography series was far more inclusive than what today’s social studies curricula seek to sell children. The publisher, which filed for bankruptcy in 2003, believed there was enough room in the telling of American history for both Christopher Columbus and Pontiac, Robert E. Lee, and Rosa Parks. Certainly, all four possessed manifestations of courage, leadership, brilliance, and conscience. That their stories represented different and even conflicting visions of America reveals the complex, sometimes morally nebulous nature of our national narrative, rather than obscures it, as do the 1619 Project and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Teaching Hard History.”

Forty years ago, as my children’s book collection proves, grade-school history pedagogy offered a diverse and inclusive narrative about our national past. It integrated biographies of men and women from a remarkable variety of backgrounds, be they rich or poor, black, white, or indigenous.

As I became older, I sensed the tension between their stories. James Monroe was a brave soldier and great statesman, but his hostile, expansionist policies ultimately incited a bloody, desperate revolt by Osceola to protect his people. That we are capable of deeming both men worthy of America’s honor evinces what is best about our national history, not what is worst.

Casey Chalk is a Senior Contributor at The Federalist, columnist for The American Conservative, Crisis Magazine, and The New Oxford Review. He has a bachelors in history and masters in teaching from the University of Virginia, and masters in theology from Christendom College.Photo Internet Archive Book Images/Flickr

https://thefederalist.com/2020/10/22/these-out-of-print-childrens-biographies-repudiate-the-bitter-lies-of-todays-uneducated-anti-americans/

Jeffrey Epstein and Some Food for Thought…

by  insanitybytes22

 

The title of this article is a bit of clickbait, but I really thought it was well done. Excellent, even. Peter Leithart presents us with an essay by Rev. Ralph Smith called, “What Jeffrey Epstein Got right.”

Don’t be scared off by that title, he’s not endorsing Jeffrey Epstein’s behavior nor advocating in favor of child sex trafficking.

We’re very complacent here in the West in modern times, complacent and conditioned to accept cultural mores that are the Christian norm, “just how things are,” to the point where they’ve almost become invisible to us. Unbeknown to many of us, our ingrained moral standard is actually a  Christian standard. Most of us are shocked and horrified by the idea of small kids being forced to work in factories all day. In brothels. On the streets.We don’t even realize that the very notion of even having “a childhood” is really a Christian ideal, a value, a worldview.

It’s not enough for us as a culture to chase down the Epstein’s of the world, or to wage an angry #Metoo social justice movement, or to “drain the swamp” or to expose Pizzagate. The missing piece of the puzzle, the foundational change that needs to happen in our hearts is to ask ourselves one question, by Whose standard are these things wrong and why??

Why is it not okay to dress young boys in drag and have them perform in nightclubs? Why is teaching gender fluidity in kindergarten wrong? Why do we have age of consent laws? By Whose standard are these things wrong and why?

Why do we value the innocence of children and strive to protect them? Why do we value monogamous marriage between one man and one woman? By Whose standard and why??

Rev Smith’s closing paragraphs nailed a couple of vital truths that I think people really need to examine, “We’ve jettisoned this heritage. Now everything goes. And in that setting, Epstein isn’t an aberration. He’s a symptom…….Either we embrace Christian standards, or we create a world of Epsteins, a world where Jeffrey Epstein looks a little less monstrous – because we’ll all have become monsters.”

 

Dancing with Devils

By Timothy Buchanan – May 31, 2019

Baseless criticisms foisted upon the Church are cyclic. They repeatedly appear, are confronted and debunked by one generation, only to reappear in a future generation. Some of these, like the wholesale condemnation of the Crusades, recur primarily as the result of historical ignorance by Christ-hating heretics and skeptics. Others, like the lie that “religion is responsible for more wars than any other cause,” are kept alive in part, by professors of the Christian faith who attempt to appease corrupt hearts and minds.

In our age of anti-truth, facts are ineffective in contending with the lies parroted by those whose view of reality is merely subjective. Nothing short of a personal encounter with the Divine will affect them. It’s a frightening situation that portends escalating violence and unfathomable wickedness for all involved.

Human history is replete with demonstrable proof that when man becomes the arbiter of morality, unspeakable carnage and suffering are the certain outcome. The hundreds of millions of murders and torturous deaths perpetrated by communist and socialist regimes in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America profoundly illustrate the consequence of human arrogance.

Statisticians can debate the body counts racked up by monstrous butchers: Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Idi Amin and American abortionists, but the numbers are so enormous that any comparison between them and the thousands of tragic deaths caused by the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Salem Witch trials, are silly and absurd. The God-rejecting man is supremely dangerous and miserable.

Now, the resurgent charge that “the Church is full of hypocrites” is being revived. Short-sighted pastors and teachers frequently attempt to befriend the lawless through self-flagellation. It always fails terribly. One of the best responses to the ludicrous accusation of hypocrisy in the Church, comes from Dr. Michael Youssef, who simply says, “Yes, and we have room for one more.”

The fact is that hypocrisy is most rampant—not in the Church but in our godless evil culture. After all, one who sets a high goal for himself or herself and occasionally fails to reach it, is no hypocrite. He is a hypocrite who claims to be sufficiently noble to judge the righteous, while rejecting defined moral principles. She is a hypocrite who aborts her child, and then screams about human rights. They are hypocrites who celebrate every form of sexual degradation while professing to care about children’s futures.

No righteous authority can exist apart from the absolute and unchanging standard of morality supplied by the Creator. As respect for the standard declines, the godless will always supplant timeless moral law with a personal subjective counterfeit that appeals to his or her capricious feelings.

The human eye cannot detect darkness unless there be a contrasting light. In like manner, people who keep large numbers of dogs are oblivious to barking noise and those who live with many cats disregard the odor of litter boxes. But their visitors are repulsed. Thus, worldlings cannot see their own hypocrisy because they have become accustomed to the moral sewer in which they dwell.

The truth is that the unbelieving secular culture is infinitely wicked and hypocritical. The Christian Church has civilized a barbaric world without resorting to the tyranny often employed in other cultures. Christian values provided the freedoms that Americans enjoy, abuse, and routinely take for granted.

Pastors and teachers who forfeit moral ground for the sake of a friendship, or, in a misguided effort to demonstrate love for the lost, are dancing with devils. And the dance always ends the same way, in stumbling confusion, loss, and a little bit of death.

Are sins, unfaithfulness, and heresies commonplace in churches today? Of course they are. But churches are purified by straining out the polluting influences of sin, by regular washing with truth, and by the disinfecting power of God’s Holy Spirit. These are tasks that many, it seems, would prefer to avoid.

It would be unthinkable to close a hospital simply because a few patients could not be saved. How much more absurd to condemn the Church—which holds the keys to eternal life—in order to garner the acclaim of the dead and dying? Perhaps it’s worth considering whether denying the Bride of Christ is not tantamount to denying Christ Himself.

 

Original here

Why Character Is Making a Comeback

Character formation isn’t just an individual process, says Anne Snyder. It requires institutions.
INTERVIEW BY KATELYN BEATY| MAY 21, 2019

Why Character Is Making a Comeback

In a media landscape awash in flame wars and polarizing punditry, it’s a bit surprising that the topic of character formation is making a comeback. “Building character” is the stuff of childhood chores and onerous school projects, completed out of duty and little delight. Yet according to new research presented in the book The Fabric of Character, published by the DC-based Philanthropy Roundtable, character formation is a top concern among today’s leaders and charitable givers across the ideological spectrum. According to researcher Anne Snyder, anyone paying attention to social trends in the West recognizes that “the conditions under which good character is forged are in trouble—weakened as much by the decline of traditional institutions as by a culture that promotes ‘I’ before ‘we,’ pleasure before purpose, self-expression before submission to a source of moral wisdom beyond oneself.”

In the book, Snyder highlights several institutions—including schools, neighborhood renewal projects, and the Boy Scouts—as case studies of how organizations strengthen the moral fiber of their members. Snyder, the newly named editor-in-chief of Comment magazine, recently spoke with CT about why faith-based institutions are particularly good at teaching character.

When I hear the word “character,” I think of the dad in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip who is always making Calvin shovel snow because it builds character. It’s not a sexy topic. Yet as you note, there seems to be a resurgence of interest in it. Why?

I started this particular project for the Philanthropy Roundtable in early 2016. I used to joke that Donald Trump and the Democrats  are a huge gift to my work because suddenly a lot of people who I never would have anticipated being interested in character, regardless of where they fell politically—even if they voted for them—began to say, “Actually, we really do care about it in our leaders.” When I began figuring out how to build a bridge between philanthropists and practice, a lot of people wanted to talk to me because they had a lot of worries about what was going on at the top of national leadership.

More broadly, as people look at social trends—everything from rising mental illness to widening and debilitating anxiety, particularly among young people, to what I would call hyper-emphasis on achievement alone as the only way to define what the good life is—a variety of those social trends have raised alarm bells about how we’re raising our kids and telling them what to value. Whether people would say there’s a moral vacuum, there’s definitely been a realization that we haven’t attended to the whole person. As a society, we’ve somehow not attended to the deeper, often invisible moral fiber of life.

Why did you focus your research on institutions that create the cultures necessary for character formation and not on individual character?

The donor community that I try to serve and cast a vision for, frankly, a lot of them are older, male, and white, ages 70 and above, and they lament the decline of the Boy Scouts years. Early on, when people heard that I was studying character, most of the donors said, “We want to fix the Boy Scouts and make it relevant again.” They were referring to these big, national institutions formed during the Progressive Era 100 years ago. We used to have a bevy of nationally scaled civic institutions that brought people together, that formed our young people in such a way that we had a shared American moral norm. Where have those institutions gone? And with the decline of religious institutions and trust in religious institutions, what are the fresh institutions to take their place that can serve in a more pluralistic era? That’s why what I ended up doing was so much more institutional and sociological than just looking at how an individual becomes more honest.

Character is such a surprise minefield in terms of how people want to define it. The tribalism of our age seems to strike this topic more than I was expecting. I didn’t think it would be politicized. I’m sensitive to the baggage that even the word character has—of cultural imperialism of a certain kind. People on the right think I’m being crazy when I say that, but people on the left kind of roll their eyes at the notion of “reviving the character-building institutions of yesteryear,” because they see that as a euphemism for middle-class values that are not taking a lot of other things into account.

Character is a word like truth or goodness; we all think we know what it means, but we probably have very different working definitions. How do you define characteras it applies to your research of various institutions?

So true! Part of the minefield of this work was realizing that different folks wanted to emphasize different aspects of character. My goal was to diffuse some of the alleged disagreements by emphasizing the practices of a character-filled life, and the often-invisible cultural and institutional forces that shape those practices. Here’s the definition I offer in the book:

Character is a set of dispositions to be and do good, engraved on a person in multiple ways: by strong family attachments that teach what to love and how to love well; by regular habits that ingrain small acts of self-control; by teachers and role models who personify excellence and inspire emulation; by religious instruction on honest, courageous, and compassionate living; through institutions that establish standards for good conduct and mentors who inculcate concrete ways to execute it; by the reading of great literature; through experiences of struggle, positions of responsibility, and the blessings and demands of enduring commitments.

In Case Study 2, you profile the Other Side Academy, which takes ex-convicts through a rigorous residency and moral boot camp of sorts to prepare them for re-entry. Their approach is strict and no-nonsense. Is there a way in which character development in general sounds a bit like “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps”? What is the role of grace in character formation?

The Other Side Academy was originally founded in Salt Lake City, so there is some Mormon influence in the underlying teleology. That played a role in how they designed accountability and even the initial interview, as they described it to me, when people apply and come in off the street or out of jail. I was a little shocked at how eviscerating those interviews are. It’s a test of, are you willing to hear some of the hardest, ugliest things about the way you’ve lived your life thus far? It’s really bracing. But I saw one of the graduating ceremonies, and the entire secular “sermon” given to the current students and the graduates was on grace. Grace was described as an active chiseling process that comes to us in the form of a friend who will be there for us no matter what but who will confront us when they see us making a moral infraction.

These ex-convicts are there to change who they are on the inside and completely shift their identity. And to do that, they have to face the worst things they’ve done to others. Grace in their view is very real, but there’s often pain involved.

If we’re going to give it a Christian corollary, it’s like the discipline of the Father toward those he loves. That’s the spirit behind it: Pain is purifying. I don’t think this could thrive in small group church situation [laughs], but I’ve never been so morally humbled in my life by these ex-offenders. I want some of these people leading companies now.

In all the examples in the book of healthy institutions, one doesn’t have to dig far to find a faith-based orientation, or at least an openness to faith. Do people of faith traditions, whether Christianity, Judaism, or Mormonism, create the best institutions for character formation?

I don’t think it’s necessary that any organization shaping lives has to have some kind of theological infusion. I did find that today, because a lot of our institutions are secular, the moral categories are very politicized categories—terms like “social justice” on the left, or on the right, the virtue of manifested, individualized courage. Our secular institutions have lost a thick moral framework. Your average “character program” that’s trying to exist in a public education environment—it’s not grounded in a clear definition of the good.

A lot of character work out there is “we just need to pull kids out of poverty and teach them some soft skills,” where character formation is a means to an end and all about getting them to a broader success ethic. By contrast, a lot of the religious institutions that we looked at tended to think in communal terms, tended to think in accountability terms, and tended to believe that humans are dependent on something beyond themselves. They have resources to draw from in their own traditions to address the moral life in a coherent way. Because religion has a transcendent orientation, it’s one of the best spheres to equip people to think about ultimate ends.

You recently took the helm of Comment magazine. How will your faith inform your vision for the magazine?

For whatever reason—whether by grace or God’s wink—since becoming a Christian, my faith has been the core engine driving my creativity. It’s the integrating pulse for my questions, ideation, laughter, skepticism. So therefore I believe in the arts, hospitality, relationship, paradox. The Beatitudes and 1 Corinthians 1 will be hitching posts, both for what this next season of Comment will seek to embody and for the sorts of voices I’ll be working to attract. In a time of deep division and gracelessness in our public square, I see a need to cohere a community of thought and action that is exploring today’s toughest issues with a kind of transcendent curiosity—a curiosity that will pour itself out in hope, faith, and love.

 

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