Sunday, September 16, 2018

Presence in the Modern World (1)

Presence in the Modern World (1)
By Jacques Ellul (1948, rev. 1988)

Chapter 1: The Christian in the World

Christians are in the world and must stay in the world and therefore, due to their communion with Christ, engage with the world’s “spiritual reality” (referred to in the New Testament as “thrones, powers, dominations”) rather than its “material might.”

Christians have a special role in the world that only they can fill. If they participate in efforts and causes and institutions of the world that they deem worthy of support but do nothing more, they fail in their mission. Because such participation is common to all, Christian or not.

The special role of Christians is made clear in the Bible. The Bible, per Ellul, calls on Christians to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and sheep among wolves.

As salt (harkening back to Old Testament themes), they are a sign of God’s covenant with humanity. As light, they separate life from death and “give meaning to the world’s history, what orients and explains it.” And, as sheep among wolves, they are a witness to God’s action in history in sharing the fate of Jesus.

Christian participation in the world also involves participation in the corporate sin of the world beyond their own sharing of an individual sinful nature with their individual neighbors. Sin for Ellul (as with his friend, William Stringfellow) is not primarily the evangelical Christian’s concern about the personal sins of themselves and others (e.g., lust, gambling, alcohol, greed, impiety) but systemic, structural sin such as represented in capitalism, fascism, communism, nationalism, racism, militarism, and the autonomous technologization of society).

Christians kid themselves if they think they have any individual freedom to remain incorrupt, pure, and remote from participation in the corporate sin of those powerful, systemic entities within which they are embedded along with their neighbors and co-workers.


In short, Christians must endure being in a scandalous position: unable to accept the sin of the world, unable to escape the sin of the world, and unable to lessen or cleanse the sin of the world to resolve their own extreme discomfort.

Forty years ago, when I was a student at Lehigh University,  there was a joke: the three laws of thermodynamics for non-engineers.

Law One: You can’t win.
Law Two: You can’t break even.
Law Three: You can’t get out of the game.

THAT, to me, appears to be Ellul’s depiction of authentic Christian life in the world. Ellul sees Christian life as being involved in a continuing dialectical struggle between God and the world (understood as a world fallen into sin and death).
Thus we are caught between two necessities that form an unresolvable tension. On the one hand, we cannot make this world less sinful; on the other, we cannot accept it as it is. To reject either side is to reject the actual situation in which God has places those whom he sends into the world. Just as we are caught in the tensions between sin and grace, so also are we caught between these two contradictory demands. It is an infinitely painful position, it is very uncomfortable, but it is the one one that can be fruitful and faithful for the Christian’s action and presence in the world. 
This tension must first be accepted and then lived out continuously. We must accept, in repentance, what is irreducibly scandalous about our life in the world, recognizing that it cannot be otherwise. To claim that it can be otherwise is hypocrisy! But to truly recognize our situation in the world assumes that we truly understand its problems. To be honest, we can not accept this tension of the Christian life as an abstract truth. We have to live it, and bring it to life in the most concrete and vital way possible. And besides, Christians must understand that bringing this tension to life is the only real way to help the world on the social, economic, and political level. (p.8)
Another aspect of the Christian’s dilemma is that acting as the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and as sheep among wolves is that there are no formulaic answers or resolutions from an abstract theology, no specifically Christian ethics or virtues, by which one can escape this scandal of living and sinfully participating in a fallen world. They must do this knowing they cannot escape this scandal and that what they cannot change in the world is also what they must not accept in the world.
At the center, in fact, lies this idea that Christian ethics rests on an agonistic structure of life, meaning that the Christian life is a continual struggle, a decisive and ultimate fight. This is nothing else than the constant and actual presence in our hearts of both judgment and grace. Yet this fact is precisely what assures our freedom. We are free because at each moment of our lives we are under both judgment and grace - and thus we are placed in a new situation, one that has no predetermined program or satanic fetters. To go further belongs to the theologian, but this much is enough to show us that the whole Christian attitude has a direct relation to God’s action in Jesus Christ. (p.10)
The title of the book is “Presence in the Modern World.” Presence refers both to God’s presence as well as the Christian’s presence as God in Christ’s ambassador to the world. They live in a foreign land but their citizenship is elsewhere. Christian ethics are existential. They involve the Christian placing themselves at the meeting point of God’s will and the world’s will.
The will of the Lord, appearing as both judgment and forgiveness, law and grace, commandment and promise, is revealed to us in Scripture, illuminated by the Spirit of God. It has to be explicated in the present time, but it does not vary. This revelation gives us the conditions in which the world can exist, that is, in which its preservation is in fact possible. (pp. 14 - 15)
God’s will is always to preserve and save the world, “but this must become incarnate in a real world, and our actions as well as our words must be oriented to the world’s present situation…” Therefore the ethics of a Christian must always be provisional, existential, and rooted in one’s concrete, specific situation in history; that is, incarnate.

The concrete situation in which a Christian of any age finds themselves is the specific configuration of the world’s culture at any one time and place.
The world’s will is always a will to death, a will to suicide. This suicide cannot be accepted, and we must act precisely so that it does not occur. We need to know therefore what the present form of the world’s will to suicide is, in order to oppose it, to know how and where to direct our efforts. 
*      *     *
It is not our job then to build the city of God, to raise up an order of God within this world while remaining unconcerned with its tendencies and suicide. Our job is to place ourselves at the very point where this will to suicide is active, in its present form, and see how God’s will to preservation can operate there in the given situation.
And so, it is by placing ourselves always at this point of encounter that we Christians can be truly present in the world and perform effective social or political work, by God’s grace. 
In the chapters that follow, we will attempt to inquire into some of the contemporary manifestations of this will to death, and the Christian’s attitude in the face of these realities. (pp. 15 - 16)
Next: Chapter 2 Revolutionary Christianity

#capitalism #resourcebasedeconomy #ellulpresence

Saturday, July 21, 2018

McCarthyism 2.0

Trump, for whatever reason, is in the thrall of Putin. Maybe it's fear of komprimat. Maybe it's hope of financial gain. Maybe he has Freudian daddy issues that attracts him to tough-as-nails autocrats and their approval. Maybe it's a narcissism as great as the world stage in which the future lies in world rule by a triumvirate of Russia, China, and the US that only HE has the vision to see and only HE has the unique personality to bring about. Maybe it's all of that. Whatever it is, it has caused him and his circle - since before the election and continuing to this day - to seek out back-channel communications with the Russian government designed to keep the American intelligence community in the dark, as if THEY were the threat America faces. And what his wing-nut supporters (which I define as ANYONE who is following Trump closely and STILL supports what he's doing) must believe - and which Trump would surely approve - is that there is a conspiracy against America's best interests by warmongering Obama / Clinton operatives in the highest echelons of the intelligence community and US State Department of the deep state shadow government.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Clan Eisenhower

Clan Eisenhower
Essential Trust and Commitment to Truth, Justice, and the American Way
(With apologies to Superman)

Essential Trust

* We trust that our lives and all aspects of our lives matter.
* They matter unconditionally.
* And they matter despite the intimidations, temptations, and final aggressions of death.

Essential American Citizenship

Truth is the only ink between what we read, hear, or say and the real world and we have the most serious of ethical obligations to hold all statements of fact by ourselves and others to the standards of publically available reason and evidence.

Justice means that people get what they deserve for what they do, tempered by such mercy as is compatible with a fair and safe society, without respect to who they are.

The American Way means that individuals, through their contributions to society, can improve their situations even if their aspirations are very different from the situations they inherited at birth.


Saturday, July 14, 2018

WTF, Talotta!!?

Peter HIckey sayeth: “"Sorry, Bill Bekkenhuis, but I get a chuckle whenever I hear that something like this happens. It's the people exercising their right to petition for redress of grievances, y'know. And it's great to see these sociopaths held to account for their anti-social behavior."

Odd you should mention that as last night I WAS THE TARGET. :-)

Last night I met two conservative friends for dinner at a Chinese all-you-can-eat buffet. As I am sometimes astoundingly unaware of what’s going on around me, I count on my two friends’ accounts on what led up to this.

We were sitting at a table and I was dodging every attempt by either of them to engage me in a political discussion.

Behind me, across the aisle, two men were engaging in a conversation in how lousy Donald Trump was for America. Apparently the conversation, at least on the part of one of the men (think long-haired, aging hippy :-) ) got relatively loud and salty in his language. And I don’t mean “hell” and “damn” level saltiness, but saltiness dealing with body parts in inappropriate places and sexual techniques most Americans would find distressing. I hope.

A casually dressed guy sitting behind THEM (that is TWO tables away on the other side of the aisle behind me) signed his check and, as he passed the two men, asked them to be a bit more discrete with their language in a public place. He said nothing about Trump.

The long-haired hippy-type FREAKED. He started shouting at this guy, cluster F-bombing him, telling him to mind his own effing business, and that he’s probably a dick (or some other euphemism for the reproductive organs) who VOTED for Trump.

At this point I became woke. :-)

While all the surrounding diners, including myself and the hapless server, tried to act like nothing was going on it seemed like a situation that could easily escalate to police being called or even a brawl.

All I could think was, “Wow, read the book on Facebook. This must be the live-action movie.”

At this point, one of my two companions, Mike Talotta, engaged the infuriated tribal warrior - addressing him in a quiet, friendly, way and encouraged him to just enjoy his meal and his conversation with his friend.

Yes. THAT MIke Talotta. (Took me awhile but I finally ruled out body double. :-)

It’s a wonder my neck didn’t break as I whipsawed my head 180 degrees: I must be part owl.

As it is, the infuriated one would have none of it and turned his wrath on us.

“Assholes, you probably ALL voted for Trump because you hated Hillary!”

Seeing my opening I said, “I know how you feel. I feel the same way. I voted for Hillary AND CAMPAIGNED for her. And I’M A REPUBLICAN.”

Whether that mollified him or if he just had extreme cognitive incongruence he calmed down just a bit and said, “Well, at least you made the right decision,” and returned to his still loud, still obscene conversation with his friend. (And believe me, none of us said a word about it. :-) )

Leaving the restaurant, having managed to avoid any discussion of politics (besides the one that could have gotten us beat up, arrested, killed, etc.) , I said, “Talotta, I want to kick your effing ass! WHY IN HELL can’t you do WHAT YOU JUST DID on Facebook?”

My other conservative friend, not on Facebook, said, “Oh, does he escalate ugly situations on Facebook?”


But I have his number now.

I don’t know WHY the hell he does what he does on Facebook, but IN THAT MOMENT he reflexively intervened early in the situation (possibly due to his several jobs as a server and bartender) and tried to de-escalate it.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

TRIBAL (Posted on Facebook)

Since we're all tribal now, while I won't de-friend anyone, I am going to determine which of us are in the same or similar tribes.

One characteristic of my tribe is the acceptance of multiple sources of truth (science, journalism, math, law, medicine, etc.), the sources determine truthful assertions through reason and evidence, and one does due diligence when one makes a factual assertion or evaluates one.

Another is that while there are multiple sources of truth that can be true in different ways (pluralism), there are some assertions of fact that DO NOT correspond to the world we all live in (realism).

I don't know who else recognizes it but we are a LONG, LONG, way from liberal vs. conservative. The issue is sanity / insanity, responsible speech and wing-nuttery and conspiracism.

And it will doom us and ALL liberal democratic governments - which, as anyone who has done any study of history knows, is a brief exception to the rule of autocracy in one form or another.

Because when discussion becomes meaningless regarding the way the world is, the only mechanism for government is brute force.


(Never mind. I can tell from your posts.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Choose This Day: A Meditation on Joshua 24:15

15 Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

I am a metaphysical pluralist who is also a realist. That means that while I believe there can be more than one right answer regarding this admonition to choose, there are some answers that are just plain wrong. (See Truth in Context: An Essay on Pluralism and Objectivity by Michael P. Lynch.)

Given today's secularism, where the gods of various movements and factions and groups and causes remain implicit within the groups with which we identify, we show in whom or in what we trust.

And I believe Trumpism is the worship of a god that feeds off fear and human sacrifice. Beyond that (if there is any need to go beyond that), it represents the worst themes in American history: America's shadow self.

So, are Trump's supporters (as well as Trump himself) most representative of conservative, liberal, or radical right-wing groups in our American history?

A literate child would answer this correctly ten out of ten times.

Their ensorcelled elders will get it wrong about eight out of ten times. 

(Of the two who get it right, one will be a white nationalist and the other will be a neo-Nazi who will both be grateful that a President of the United States has finally come out and explicitly said what they've been dog-whistling for the last four decades and who has encouraged them to come out of their dark, fearful, and hateful shadows at last.)

American conservatism is a broad system of political beliefs in the United States that is characterized by respect for American traditions, republicanism, support for Judeo-Christian values,[1] moral absolutism,[2] free markets and free trade,[3][4] anti-communism,[4][5] individualism,[4] advocacy of American exceptionalism,[6] and a defense of Western culture from the perceived threats posed by socialism, authoritarianism, and moral relativism.[7]

Liberty, economic freedom, social conservatism, and promotion of Judaeo-Christian[1] ideals are core beliefs, with a particular emphasis on strengthening the free market, limiting the size and scope of government in the economy, and opposition to high taxes and government or labor union encroachment on the entrepreneur. American conservatives consider individual liberty, within the bounds of conformity to American values, as the fundamental trait of democracy, which contrasts with modern American liberals, who generally place a greater value on equality and social justice.[8][9]

Liberalism in the United States is a broad political philosophy centered on what many see as the unalienable rights of the individual. The fundamental liberal ideals of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion for all belief systems, and the separation of church and state, right to due process, and equality under the law are widely accepted as a common foundation across the spectrum of liberal thought.[citation needed]

Modern liberalism in the United States includes issues such as same-sex marriage, reproductive and other women's rights, voting rights for all adult citizens, civil rights, environmentalism, and government protection of freedom from want.[1] National social services such as: equal education opportunities; access to health care; and transportation infrastructure are intended to meet the responsibility to "promote the general welfare" of all citizens. Some American liberals, who call themselves classical liberals, fiscal conservatives, or libertarians, support fundamental liberal ideals but disagree with modern liberal thought, holding that economic freedom is more important than equality, and that providing for the general welfare exceeds the legitimate role of government.[2]

Especially historically in United States politics, the radical right is a political preference that leans towards extreme conservatism and anti-socialism.[1] The term was first used by social scientists in the 1950s regarding small groups such as the John Birch Society in the United States and since then it has been applied to similar groups worldwide.[2]

The term "radical" was applied to the groups because they sought to make fundamental (hence "radical") changes within institutions and remove from political life persons and institutions that threatened their values or economic interests.[3] They were called "right-wing" primarily because of their opposition to socialism, communism, marxism, anarchism, social democracy, progressivism and liberalism and their ultraconservative or reactionary tendencies which limited new access to power and status.[4] "

*   *   *
Jeffrey Kaplan and Leonard Weinberg argued that the radical right in the U.S. and right-wing populism in Europe were the same phenomenon that existed throughout the Western world. They identified the core attributes as contained in extremism, behaviour and beliefs. As extremists, they see no moral ambiguity and demonize the enemy, sometimes connecting them to conspiracy theories such as the New World Order. Most politicians are seen as traitors or cowards. Given this worldview, there is a tendency to use methods outside democratic norms, although this is not always the case. The main core belief is inequality, which often takes the form of opposition to immigration or racism. They do not see this new Right as having any connection with the historic Right, which had been concerned with protecting the status quo.[29] They also see the cooperation of the American and European forms, and their mutual influence on each other, as evidence of their existence as a single phenomenon.[30]

Daniel Bell argues that the ideology of the radical right is "its readiness to jettison constitutional processes and to suspend liberties, to condone Communist methods in the fighting of Communism".[31] Historian Richard Hofstader agrees that communist-style methods are often emulated: "The John Birch Society emulates Communist cells and quasi-secret operation through 'front' groups, and preaches a ruthless prosecution of the ideological war along lines very similar to those it finds in the Communist enemy". He also quotes Barry Goldwater: "I would suggest that we analyze and copy the strategy of the enemy; theirs has worked and ours has not".[32]

Thursday, June 28, 2018

A House Once Again Divided

With the resignation of Justice Kennedy, we come to the great separation between the wheat and the chaff, the sheep and the goats regarding what it is to be an American.

Americans who support Donald Trump BECAUSE of who he is are beyond recovery and must be "encouraged" to go back under their rock.

Americans who, based on legitimate grievances against the Powers That Be, support Donald Trump IN SPITE OF who he is must have their cause championed and their motivations changed from fear to a realistic hope for redress.

The fault line is not Republican vs. Democrat nor conservative vs. liberal but a collection of nativist, racists, isolationists, protectionists, ethno-centrists, and conspiracists vs. Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals, and independents who recognize the hostile takeover of the Republican party for what it is: America's shadow self that, in difficult times, can be summoned by fear-mongering and lies to come out from under their rock to empower the narcissistic demagogues who use them.
America has been here before and while at no time in its history could anything be taken for granted, the track record is shows us muddling through in our own sweet time (see 10 Overturned Supreme Court Cases (How Stuff Works) )

"Roy Marcus Cohn (/koʊn/; February 20, 1927 – August 2, 1986) was an American attorney. During Senator Joseph McCarthy's investigations into Communist activity in the United States during the Second Red Scare, Cohn served as McCarthy's chief counsel and gained special prominence during the Army–McCarthy hearings.

"Cohn was also known for being a U.S. Department of Justice prosecutor at the espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and later for representing President Donald J. Trump during his early business career. He was disbarred by the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court for unethical conduct in 1986.[2] He died less than two months later."

Roy Cohn (Wikipedia)