30 June 2005

Liberalism, pluralism and secularism

I must say that I am truly flattered by all the attention the pseudonymous Fr. Gassalasca Jape (whose surname I've been pronouncing in my head as "HAHpay") has been giving me. Checking out his blog, The Japery (which I shall not attempt to pronounce!), I see that he has twice commented on something I've written in recent weeks. I am not altogether certain I am worth this much attention, but given that he has thrown down the gauntlet, I suppose I owe him the courtesy of more than just a cursory response. Here goes.

I should begin by correcting a couple of errors in his account of my spiritual pilgrimage. I did not suffer "a narrow escape from fundamentalism while studying at Notre Dame." Nothing could be further from the truth. I don't know where he picked this up, but it doesn't correspond to anything that happened to me at the time. I do not even like the contemporary use of fundamentalism, which has become a general term of opprobrium in the media and the academy. But let that pass.

As for my "Byzantine-rite Calvinist" label, it is no less tongue-in-cheek than his "Fr. Jape" monicker, which may not even belong to a genuine Roman Catholic, much less to a priest, judging from the list of names and bios in the tNP masthead. (Thanks to Jim Rovira for setting me on to this.) The Byzantine part of this is a reference to my paternal roots in the Greek community of Cyprus, as "Fr. Jape" probably already knows if he has investigated me as thoroughly as he appears to have done. I did not choose this tradition; it chose me. As for how an Orthodox Christian ended up in the Reformed tradition, he might ask his colleague, Caleb Stegall (assuming Stegall is not "Jape"), whose parents taught at the institution that educated my father six decades ago. Is any of this a source of confusion for me? Not in the least.

The crux of the disagreement between us would appear to revolve around the respective identities of liberalism, pluralism and secularism. According to Jape, assuming I am reading him correctly, if I claim to favour a political order which refrains from extending official preferences to one religious faith over all others, I am ipso facto in favour of liberalism. If I believe it possible, along with the Center for Public Justice and the Work Research Foundation, to maintain a constitutional framework in which government co-operates with private organizations for public purposes without discriminating on the basis of their undergirding confessional visions, then that makes me simply one more contributor to liberal hegemony in the public square. If I believe that government should not be in the business of educating directly but ought to respect the parents' primary responsibility over their own children's education, that is, if I favour school choice (there's that awful word), then that presumably makes me a liberal. Yet these are among the implications of the principled pluralism of the Center and the WRF, both of which explicitly repudiate liberal individualism. I can do no better than to quote from the Center's website:

The Center’s philosophy of principled pluralism flows directly from its conviction that governments have not been ordained by God for the purpose of separating believers from unbelievers, giving privilege to Christians and the church, or serving the interests of one nation over others. This is a religious conviction that mandates publicly established religious freedom for all. Governments have the high calling to uphold public justice for all people living within their territories. States are not churches or families; public officials are not national theologians or clergy. States are public-legal communities that exist for the protection and enhancement of the common good.

The word "pluralism" in this context means at least three things. First, it means recognizing that the state itself is but one institutional community among others in society. The American republic, as a political community, is part of a diverse social landscape that includes families, businesses, schools and colleges, social-service organizations, and much more. The jurisdiction of American federal and state governments is (or should be) limited to the making, executing, and adjudicating of public laws for everyone who lives under the jurisdiction of those governments. The authority of government is not limitless. Governments may not ignore or displace other kinds of human responsibility in other institutions.

The word "pluralism" also means, therefore, that government should recognize and uphold the diverse organizational structure of civil society. Government should not treat human beings merely as individual citizens; human beings also exist as family members, faith-community members, economically organized employers and employees, and in dozens of other capacities and relationships. "Principled pluralism" means that government is obligated to do justice to society’s nongovernmental organizations and institutions as a matter of principle. This is why the Center for Public Justice is concerned with the order of society and the proper relation of government to the many different kinds of human relationships and organizations in society.

Is all this liberalism? Hardly. It is the peculiarity of the various secular ideologies, including liberalism, that they attempt to flatten out this diversity of communities and responsibilities into a single form. Liberalism's unique role in this is to reduce communities to voluntary contracts among the component individuals. It thus has difficulty accounting for genuine differences among what I would label the pluriformity of human communities and responsibilities. Let's take the somewhat shopworn case of church and state.

The divine mandate of the church — the institutional church as distinct from the corpus Christi, which is manifested throughout the pluriform structures of society — includes among other things the preaching of the Word, the proper administration of the sacraments and the exercise of discipline over its members. Church members are bound by a common confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. Those who do not make this confession exclude themselves from the ecclesial body. Those who do are subject to its legitimate authority.

Citizenship in the state, however, is not based on a common religious confession, although the religions of the citizens will certainly impact the larger political culture which nourishes the constitutional framework. The state normatively mandates obedience to the laws but not uniformity of religious belief, the encouragement of which lies beyond its mandate as a limited differentiated institution. Government's task is an intrinsically jural one, which is irreducible to the wills of contracting individuals. This is something liberalism cannot bring itself to comprehend. Government properly does public justice, which calls among other things for (1) caring for the commons; (2) protecting the diverse responsibilities of individuals and communities within its territory; and (3) justly adjudicating the interrelations among the same, including possible conflicts. This stands in stark contrast to the liberal individualist account, with its roots in John Locke's political philosophy.

Now here is where matters admittedly get tricky, and this points to one of the practical, if not theoretical, difficulties with the principled pluralist position. What if liberal secularism remains hegemonic and refuses to allow a place for serious Christians, observant Jews, &c., within the public square? What if its followers continue, based on their monopoly of public educational funding, to assume the right to educate everyone's children irrespective of their religious beliefs? What if they continue to assume that basic social institutions can be redefined at will simply by passing a law to that effect? What, in other words, if they refuse to acknowledge the sort of pluriformity recognized by the Center and the WRF, as well as by the tradition of Catholic social teachings? These are the sorts of practical considerations that have had me cautiously and tentatively re-evaluating my previous stance in favour of Canadian unity. As I indicated in the haloscan comments (whose numbering appears to have gone a bit haywire), this is by no means a settled position. It's more of a trial balloon. In fact, I would prefer to be shown to be wrong in this judgement.

I am pleased to hear that there is a glimmer of hope for the church's witness in Québec outside the Montréal region (although the article to which "Fr. Jape" pointed us is by now a dead link; we'll have to take his word for it). But will it be enough to carry the province as a whole? Perhaps we need to say to those new Christians, much as Québec's separatists have told New Brunswick's Acadiens and franco-Manitobans: come to ROC ("Rest of Canada"), find a new home with us and help us to fight the good fight for public justice for all of our fellow citizens, whatever their ultimate beliefs.

My ongoing differences with "Fr. Jape" were anticipated already last year, when I published my tNP article on liberalism. I argued therein for exercising spiritual discernment, while "Jape" argued for obedience, as if these two were somehow opposed principles. I make no argument for the expansion of freedom of choice for its own sake, as anyone who has read my book will readily attest. But in a world filled with competing worldviews and the claims made on their behalf, and where so many have been uprooted from their nurturing traditions, we need to know whom and what to obey. Spiritual discernment necessarily precedes obedience. Otherwise we risk falling prey to the first voice to reach our ears.

In recent weeks I have been in the thick of working on my second book, under the provisional title, We Answer to Another: authority, human personhood and the imago Dei. I will be continuing with this and will thus not be posting as frequently as in the past for the next little while. The subject of my book obviously has relevance to the current dialogue, and I may be posting some of my ideas and findings at various times.

In the meantime it is worth asking "Fr. Jape" the following: If not principled pluralism, then what? What would he prefer? A nonliberal order, to be sure, but what would this look like? Would it mandate a state establishment of Christianity, or even Catholicism? If he really is a Catholic, what does he think of Dignitatis Humanae? Is this a "liberal" document? If he judges it thus, and rejects it accordingly, one might have reason to doubt his claimed obedience to the Roman magisterium which endorses it.

29 June 2005

From bad to worse?

The Globe and Mail's Michael Valpy reports: Ignatieff sets sights on Ottawa. I wouldn't exactly say that Michael Ignatieff is the last person I'd want to see as prime minister. But this will explain my singular lack of enthusiasm at the prospect. Incidentally, Ignatieff is nephew to George Parkin Grant and thus ought to know better.

Kennedy School, Harvard

Another philosopher-king for Canada?

27 June 2005

Divorce at last? A change of heart

Back in 1997 I was invited to contribute a chapter to the 3rd edition of Mark Charlton and Paul Barker's edited volume, Crosscurrents: Contemporary Political Issues, published by ITP Nelson. I was asked to respond to an essay by David Bercuson, "Why Canada and Quebec Must Part," originally published in the March 1995 issue of Current History. My contribution was titled, "Why Political Divorce Must Be Averted," and it was placed in the volume right after Bercuson's. I marshalled several arguments against Québec separation, drawing on the divorce metaphor to note that there are always casualties in a marital breakup. I pointed to the difficulties of historic instances of secession and partition, with the obligatory allusion to Cyprus, whose experience has given me a horror of separatist movements in general. I was especially proud of this essay, because I felt I had done my part for the cause of Canadian unity.

When the 4th edition of Crosscurrents was being prepared a few years later, I was not asked to revise my contribution. Both Bercuson's and my essays were to be dropped, because the editors judged that separatism was no longer in the forefront of public consciousness. If it was not exactly "yesterday's issue," as an old Canadian politics textbook I used in the late 1980s once put it, it was no longer at the centre of the national debate. The Supreme Court's 1998 Québec reference, the Clarity Act and the subsequent return to power of the provincial Liberals in Québec City had effectively sidelined the festering issue of separation.

Now this has changed once more. The latest public opinion polls indicate that a Majority in Quebec Would Choose Sovereignty. The Sponsorship Scandal, which had discredited the federal Liberal Party in Québec, has also damaged the federalist cause in general in that province.

If the editors put out a 5th edition of the Crosscurrents volume, they may have to revisit the separatist issue and put back in its pages essays taking opposite positions on the national unity issue. However, if they invite me to revise my old essay, I may have to decline. Why? Recently I have come to wonder whether Bercuson was not right after all. I still dislike partitions and separations as a general rule. They cause huge problems for everyone involved.

However, thinking as a Christian who strongly believes in the public witness of the christian faith, I am now beginning to wonder whether the presence within Canada of a radically secularized Québec might not constitute a nearly insuperable obstacle to the progress of such a witness. Once an overwhelmingly Catholic province, this changed after 1960 as a result of the Révolution tranquille, the Quiet Revolution, which transformed the province virtually overnight, quickly emptying the pews, severely depressing its once high birthrate, ending the church's hold on much of the province's life and fuelling the flames of nationalism. Since then Canadians as a whole have been governed the vast majority of time by Quebeckers who are heirs of the Quiet Revolution and who have managed to put their stamp on the culture as a whole. Given that Québec has the second-highest population in Canada, this gives the province considerable clout at the federal level.

Up until recently I have thought it best to accommodate Québec to the extent possible within the current framework of confederation. It is with some sadness that I am coming to conclude that this may not be in the longterm best interest either of Québec itself or of the remainder of the country. If Canada is to have some chance of casting off the stranglehold of official secularism and embracing something like a principled pluralism, then it may have to find its way without la belle province.

25 June 2005

Toscanini's long career

The famed Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini was born in 1867 and died in 1957, when I was two years old. He was well known in his latter years as conductor of the NBC Symphony Orchestra, whose baton he assumed at age 70. He continued to conduct right up until 1954. Given that he debuted as conductor in 1886 at age 19, his career lasted an extraordinary 68 years. If I were to teach that long, I would be retiring at age 100.
Church renewal in the cards?

Could this organization, New Wineskins, succeed in remaking the Presbyterian Church (USA), the largest Presbyterian denomination in North America and getting smaller all the time? Christ Presbyterian Church, the host congregation of the recent New Wineskins meeting, counts as members two good friends of mine from undergraduate days some three decades ago, along with their family. May it please God to use CPC and other similar congregations to renew this historic church body.
Prince William's degree

This story initially confused me: Prince William's Graduation Day, especially reading that he had received a four-year master of arts degree at Scotland's St. Andrew's University. Could this be a graduate degree? Could the prince really have earned it at only age 23? But according to this report, "A Scottish Master of the Arts degree is the equivalent of an undergraduate English Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree." Okay, that makes more sense.
Whither labour unions?

Gordon College's Timothy Sherratt writes in the Center for Public Justice's new Capital Commentary on The State of the Labor Unions, in the course of which he makes mention of the Work Research Foundation.

24 June 2005

Bertie meets Benedict

For some years now I have found fascinating the ancient Order of Malta, the only sovereign entity lacking its own territory, apart from the grand magistral palace in Rome. Yesterday the Order's grand master Fra' Andrew Bertie met with Pope Benedict to mark the feast day of its patron, St. John the Baptist. Benedict himself is a member of the Order, holding the rank of Bailiff Grand Cross of Honour and Devotion.
Graham's NY crusade his last?

Veteran evangelist Billy Graham, suffering from a variety of ailments, will hold what he expects to be his final crusade in New York this weekend. Graham's longtime soloist, George Beverly Shea, born in 1909, will be singing. Graham's ministry, which started in Los Angeles in 1949, has led some 3.2 million people to dedicate their lives to Christ.

23 June 2005

Disturbing allegations

Could this be true? UN cites reliable accounts of US torture at Guantanamo Bay.

22 June 2005

Solzhenitsyn on democracy

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn does not speak out often on the state of his country's political health, but when he does, it is something to take note of. The famed Russian novelist was interviewed on Russian television earlier this month. Echoing his analysis 15 years ago in Rebuilding Russia, Solzhenitsyn emphasizes that democracy cannot be imposed from above but must grow incrementally from the bottom up, beginning with local governments. He has harsh words, incidentally, for the current American effort "to impose democracy throughout the world," as well as for the functioning of "democracy" in his own country.
Warning on infertility

Bill Ledger of the University of Sheffield is warning that infertility in Europe could double in ten years, exacerbating the continuing demographic crisis of that continent. The causes? STDs, obesity and the postponement of childbearing. Says Ledger: "About one in seven couples is infertile now, and put these together and it could be as many as one in three or four. It is going to become a major political issue." France and the Scandinavian countries are already making an effort to address this issue.

21 June 2005

ROCOR to join Patriarchate

After decades of official estrangement, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) is slated to re-establish ties with the Patriarch of Moscow while retaining its organizational independence. It will thus become similar to the Ukrainian, Latvian, Moldovan and Estonian Orthodox Churches, all of which are in a similar relationship to the Moscow Patriarchate.
First Nations honoured

Today is National Aboriginal Day in Canada.
Danforth on Christianity and politics

Here is retired US Senator, and Episcopal priest, John Danforth writing in The New York Times: Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers. Writes Danforth:

It is important for those of us who are sometimes called moderates to make the case that we, too, have strongly held Christian convictions, that we speak from the depths of our beliefs, and that our approach to politics is at least as faithful as that of those who are more conservative. Our difference concerns the extent to which government should, or even can, translate religious beliefs into the laws of the state.

Is that really the central difference between moderates and conservatives within the christian community? Does Danforth really manifest a "spirit of humility lacking in [his] conservative colleagues"? He freely and repeatedly appeals to the command to love God and neighbour. Yet this divinely-mandated love is not simply a matter of being indiscriminately nice to everyone and unthinkingly giving in to every claim on the commons. A love that refrains from rendering necessary judgements in the name of tolerance and compassion is not love at all; it is overt partiality towards those with whom we are able to feel compassion at the expense of those with whom we cannot. Nor is this justice, but only a facile imitation.
Terri Schiavo, again . . . and at last?

So Dr. Jon R. Thogmartin's autopsy on Terri Schiavo's body has apparently vindicated her husband Michael's case against her family. Dr. Thogmartin has confirmed that Schiavo's brain was half the expected size and had atrophied to such an extent as to cause, among other things, cortical blindness. That settles the matter, right? Wrong. Dr. William Hammesfahr, a Florida neurologist and Nobel prize nominee who had examined Schiavo while she was alive, disputes the official findings. Those of us who are not versed in the medical arts are thus left to sort through the contradictory claims being made by those who are. Where does the truth lie? I wish I knew.

20 June 2005

E. Pauline Johnson

We North Americans have nothing similar to Monaco, Liechtenstein or San Marino in Europe. We have no sovereign principalities surrounded by Canadian or American territory. Or do we? On saturday our family drove down to the nearby Six Nations Reserve, which lies along the Grand River between Caledonia and Brantford. As one of the many aboriginal reserves in this country, it is Canadian territory, yet in some respects it possesses something approaching sovereign status. It relates directly to the federal government and has its own elected band council. Status Indians on the reserve are exempt from certain taxes to which the rest of us are subject, most notably those on gasoline and cigarettes.

Our destination was Chiefswood, the childhood home of the famous Anglo-Mohawk poetess, Emily Pauline Johnson, who lived from 1861 until 1913. Nancy had read a biography of her, Flint and Feather: The Life and Times of E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake (2002), by Charlotte Gray, and was fascinated to know that her childhood home was so near to us. A few weeks ago we had driven past it, and Nancy was determined to come back and visit Chiefswood, which was restored and opened in 1997 as a museum.

McMaster University


Johnson never married, but at least one of her poems indicates that there may have been someone special in her life at some point. Here is an especially moving stanza from Close By:

Once, many days ago, we almost held it,
The love we so desired;
But our shut eyes saw not, and fate dispelled it
Before our pulses fired
To flame, and errant fortune bade us stand
Hand almost touching hand.

For someone like myself who has always lived near those "inland seas" known as the Great Lakes, Johnson's Erie Waters speaks vividly:

A dash of yellow sand,
Wind-scattered and sun-tanned;
Some waves that curl and cream along the margin of the strand;
And, creeping close to these
Long shores that lounge at ease,
Old Erie rocks and ripples to a fresh sou'western breeze.

I'll end with a stanza from this patriotic poem, Canadian Born, which for more than one reason sounds magnificently politically incorrect nowadays:

No title and no coronet is half so proudly worn
As that which we inherited as men Canadian born.
We count no man so noble as the one who makes the brag
That he was born in Canada beneath the British flag.

More of her poetry can be found at the Pauline Johnson Archive located at McMaster University.
Comment changes and WRF event

The Work Research Foundation's internet journal, Comment, is undergoing some changes, including the posting of a weekly article for the foreseeable future. Gideon Strauss explains in this editorial: Building Institutions. Among the recent entries are the following: How to Start a Slow Reformation in a Fast and Easy Society, by James Brink; Building Institutions: The Center for Public Justice, by Richard Greydanus; and To Change the World - Behind the Scenes, by Brian Harskamp.

Incidentally, I was privileged to attend the WRF's Toronto event, To Change the World, featuring James Davison Hunter, last wednesday evening in the legislative dining room at Queen's Park, the provincial government building. The guest list was, at least in part, a veritable who's who of southern Ontario neocalvinism, including more than one Redeemer colleague, several of our alumni, CLAC people and a television host from CTS, who (though probably not herself a neocalvinist) introduced the speaker.

University of Virginia


Hunter argues that Christians sorely need to be in the key culture-shaping institutions of the larger society if they hope to have a long-term impact. Changing hearts and minds from the bottom up and on an individual basis is not enough. Ironically, Hunter teaches at the University of Virginia, an institution founded by Thomas Jefferson with an overtly secularizing vision of society. Yet under Hunter's leadership the institution has become an hospitable place for confessional Christian and observant Jewish scholars interested in exploring the relationship between religion and culture.

18 June 2005

Might book topple régime?

When we think of history's worst tyrants, responsible for the deaths of millions, Hitler and Stalin's names come immediately to mind. But someone may have dwarfed them both in terms of the magnitude of his crimes while in power: Mao Zedong. London-based columnist Gwynne Dyer speculates that Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's new book, Mao: The Unknown Story, describing these crimes in detail, could eventually bring down the moribund communist régime in Beijing.
Greek Orthodox troubles

Scandal continues over the byzantine machinations within the Greek Orthodox Church. Reforms are obviously needed. Dare one mention the word reformation?

This is for our young travellers who were soliciting advice for places to visit in Europe. Between Paris and Geneva lies the village of Vézelay, which is definitely worth seeing. I myself was there 30 years ago with Gordon College's European Seminar. It's a lovely little town whose principal attraction is the Basilique de Marie Madeleine, a largely romanesque church bearing the remains of Mary Magdalene.

Bryn Mawr

The Basilica of Mary Magdalene

This is from the journal I was keeping at the time, dated 8 July 1975:

The atmosphere is somewhat similar to the Cathedral at Noyon at which Calvin grew up. It is very colourless and sombre. It is also lacking the tourists which throng Notre Dame [Paris] or St. Paul's [London]. The style of most of the church is romanesque. The quire is gothic, however, with typical pointed arches and airy architecture, the emphasis being on light. By contrast, the nave has smaller windows and a darker, heavier character. The façade of the basilica is similar to Notre Dame (smaller of course) except that there is but one tower on one side which seems to destroy the symmetry of the structure. To this church flocked pilgrims bent on seeing and venerating the presumed remains of Mary of Magdala which are stored in the crypt below the quire. It is much easier to pray and to maintain a worshipful attitude here than in the cathedrals of the large cities.

On a sloping hillside outside the town St. Bernard of Clairvaux preached the sermon which launched the Second Crusade to recover the Holy Land. We stayed at a youth hostel operated by the Catholic peace organization, Pax Christi. A year later I turned one of the photographs I took of a Vézelay street scene into an oil painting which now hangs in the dining room of our home.

Back in 1975 Vézelay was off the beaten path, having become somewhat obscure after centuries of being a bustling centre for pilgrims. I hear rumours that the town has once again become heavily touristed. Yet even if it has, it's still worth a visit.

17 June 2005

You never can recall

As I was ambling through the hallway outside the Redeemer auditorium, I saw the gallery of photographs of the various stageplays put on by our theatre arts department over the years. One of these was, in fact, Shaw's You Never Can Tell, performed in November 1990. I had thought we had staged it at some point, but the plot didn't seem all that familiar when we were sitting in front of it last week. A senior moment perhaps.
Euroconstitution put on hold

This news is no surprise: "European Union leaders decided Thursday to put on hold plans to unite their 25 countries under a single constitution, saying they need to reconnect with their people." I hate to disappoint them, but no amount of reconnecting with the people will produce the needed unanimity for such a document. Why not allow the constitution to go into effect for those countries approving it and permit the others to negotiate separate arrangements on an individual basis? It may offend some people's sense of symmetry, but it may be the most that can be expected.

16 June 2005

Catholic-Orthodox relations, again

This Guardian article, "Kiev Patriarch Urges Church Cooperation," raises some interesting questions: What if one or more Orthodox jurisdictions were to make a separate peace with Rome, entering into full communion while not intending to break with their brethren in the other jurisdictions? Or is that an impossibility?
Degree undeserved

Incredibly, the University of Western Ontario has conferred an honorary degree on the notorious Henry Morgentaler, whose singular achievement has been to make abortion legal in this country as well as to provide the procedure himself. According to Morgentaler:

"By fighting for reproductive freedom, and making it possible, I have made a contribution to a safer and more caring society where people have a greater opportunity to realize their full potential. . . . Well-loved children grow into adults who do not build concentration camps, do not rape and do not murder," said Morgentaler, 82, who himself survived a Nazi death camp.

From this I think we can safely conclude that the degree was not awarded for his impeccable command of logic.

15 June 2005

Bad weather

Hamilton was spared this: "Tornadoes touch down in southwestern Ontario; no major damage reported." We had some rain, but that was it.
Close votes in the Commons

Paul Martin's government has survived a series of confidence votes over the budget. The Conservatives are no longer quite as keen as last month on contesting an election, because they are down in the polls.

My mother grew up in the small Michigan town of Milan, located on state road 23 south of Ann Arbor, straddling Washtenaw and Monroe Counties. Because my grandmother still lived in the community when I was growing up, we spent a lot of time there during my childhood, generally visiting two or three times a year and, especially during the summers, spending as many as 6 or 7 weeks at a stretch. The place came to seem a second home to us.

Milan Chamber of Commerce

Whenever we would drive past this building on East Main and County Streets, my mother told us that, when she was growing up, the public library was located in the second storey of what was then a fire hall. Only much later was I struck by the oddness of these shared accommodations, given that libraries are supposed to crave silence — which would hardly be forthcoming in the event of a fire alarm.

14 June 2005

BC's referendum

Last month British Columbians voted in favour of the single transferable vote by a margin of 57 percent -- 3 percentage points short of the 60 percent required to implement this reform to the province's electoral system. However, Russ Kuykendall asks two sensible questions:

If STV is so great, why was there not a plurality of options for reform of B.C.'s electoral system? Why was there one, and only one, option put before British Columbians?

Admittedly, it is somewhat ironic that, although proportional representation is an electoral system well suited to a democracy with more than two partisan groupings, BC's voters were asked to approve only one form of PR as the alternative to the current first-past-the-post system. Might it have been better if several alternative forms were put before voters to be ranked on a preferential ballot? Perhaps.

13 June 2005

Greek archbishop optimistic

Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States believes that Pope Benedict XVI could do much to heal the millennium-old schism between Rome and the Orthodox Church.

“If Benedict, so characterized as a conservative, decides to do something so daring, no one will question him because he has the credentials,” Demetrios says. “There is something that he (Ratzinger) said that is an indication of what I mean. He said, ‘For me, our real sister is the Orthodox Church.’ He didn’t say the Protestant Church. He said the Orthodox Church.”

That said, however, even if the papacy and the several Orthodox jurisdictions agreed on terms of a reunion, the Orthodox faithful could decide not to accept them — something which seems to lie within their power and for which there is precedent. I seem to recall from somewhere a saying about élites taking the led for granted.
Taylor's passing

Kenneth Taylor, originator and publisher of the best-selling Living Bible, has died at age 88.
EU in crisis

The rejection of the new constitution by French and Dutch voters has put the European Union in a damage-control mode, as leaders meet to decide what to do next. Further expansion now appears to be on hold. Might the prospect of Turkey's future membership have had something to do with the current impass? According to Constant Brand, writing in Macleans:

European politicians have started to raise doubts in public over the December decision on Turkey, raising fears in Ankara that their European ambitions might be shelved by the EU in the wake of the growing opposition at home and the crisis around the constitution.

Polls in France and the Netherlands showed that opposition to Turkey's membership was one of the key reasons voters gave for opposing the EU constitution.

Whatever the reasons for the negative votes, the results have forced European heads of government to reassess the half-century-old project for continental integration. The lesson? Élites cannot afford to take for granted the people they purport to lead.

11 June 2005

Blog silence

It's time for Gideon Strauss to switch servers.
St. Barnabas' Day

St. Barnabas Church, Ottawa

Today is the feast day of St. Barnabas, native and patron of the island of Cyprus.
Debt relief forthcoming?

Here is encouraging news for those desiring to help the poorest of the world's poor countries: "G8 moves close to Africa debt deal."
Concerns raised

Iain Benson raises concerns and asks hard questions about the federal government's Bill C-38.
'Fr. Jape' and the neocalvinists

When the pseudonymous Fr. Gassalasca Jape, SJ, began writing in the New Pantagruel last year, I had appreciative words for his critique of liberalism, which appeared to recognize its religious roots in a way that the liberal critics of late liberalism were unable to see. Here, I thought, was a potential ally in the common struggle of believing Christians against liberal hegemony in the public square. His observations inspired me to write something of a follow-up article, which appeared in the summer 2004 issue of tNP. Since then, sad to say, "Fr. Jape" appears to have turned on his potential allies, or at least on those of us within the ranks of neocalvinism. For this I am truly sorry, as I believe that members of the body of Christ desperately need to form coalitions rather than foment further internal schisms.

Now "Fr. Jape" has taken on my respected friend Ray Pennings, long connected with the Christian Labour Association of Canada, for the unspeakable offence of counselling civility as we undertake to debate the controversies which inevitably arise within the political arena. By contrast, "Fr. Jape" argues:

It is a severe fact that one cannot take clear stands on many critical issues without expressing contempt for "the deeply held convictions of others with whom [one] disagree[s]." The proper attitude toward a person or position one regards as contemptuous of, say, human life, is contempt — which need not preclude pity, fear, and even compassion. Anything less indicates one does not really take the matter seriously. It is always the fitting implication and sign of honesty in even the most "civil" disputes that the disputants are clearly antagonists whose differences cannot be reconciled or infinitely deferred without there being a winner and a loser.

Three observations are in order here.

First, whoever is behind the "Fr. Jape" persona does the curmudgeonly Jesuit priest rather well, although I'm beginning to harbour suspicions that he (or she) is guilty at least of severely overplaying this role. If one is urging others on to expressing contempt for those opinions with which they disagree, then the decent thing would seem to be to stop hiding behind the mask, come out into the open and take responsibility for one's own viewpoints.

Second, "Fr. Jape" is entirely too confident that the sort of incivility he proposes to unleash in the public square will not lead to a shooting war in the streets. Many abolitionists probably thought the same thing in the run-up to the American Civil War. Moreover, those who would too quickly resort to the language of warfare within the political realm are unlikely to manifest due respect for our political institutions as political institutions, with a God-given mandate to do justice on an on-going basis. At most they will be considered mere means to the achievement of specific desired goals, which are then, quite by themselves, identified with justice in its entirety. I am reminded here of Thomas More's zealous son-in-law, William Roper, in Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons, who would "cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil," to which the more seasoned More replies, "And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, all the laws being flat?" Those who would spurn the sorts of procedures and compromises necessitated by ordinary politics because the results do not perfectly match up to their expectations should not be surprised if they one day end up exiled from their homes and means of livelihood, which was the fate of my father's compatriots in Cyprus, the more passionate of whom eschewed civil discourse and could not bring themselves to accept half measures when they were offered.

Third, I think James Brink may be onto something in his aside on Jape's critique of liberalism. If one indiscriminately identifies liberalism with societal differentiation in general, then the tendency will be, not simply to reject liberalism at its spiritual roots, but to try to stop history in its tracks and perhaps even to reverse it. If so, then, like the marxist utopians of yore (recent "yore," to be sure), one will be trying to bend the world in a way in which it simply, structurally cannot go. However, if Jape is not, after all, attempting to taint every societal development since the 16th century with the liberal label, then I'm sure we would all like to hear it — and preferably from the person behind the mask.

10 June 2005

US to close detention centre?

Might the United States government be preparing to close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba? According to this report, perhaps so.
Supreme Court decision

What will be the implications of this ruling? Top court strikes down Quebec private health-care ban.
Pope Benedict and the evangelicals

Although Benedict XVI has made ecumenical overtures in more than one direction, going so far as to propose a joint synod of Greek (i.e., Orthodox) and Latin bishops during his visit to Bari, Italy, journalist Paolo Pontoniere believes that the new Pope may be preparing a strategy to combat the growing worldwide influence of evangelicals. Pontoniere cites some startling statistics:

According to some researchers, evangelical Christianity is expanding three times faster than the world population and is the only existing religious group showing a significant growth through conversion. By contrast, the Roman Catholic Church is expanding at a slower pace than the population, which will mean an overall decrease in the number of Catholics worldwide.

In addition, the dissolution of the Berlin Wall not only reinvigorated the Orthodox church, but also saw huge numbers of believers from the former Socialist bloc — where the church had been persecuted — move into evangelical groups.

There are currently more evangelicals in Asia than in North America. Singapore's churches are among the most active in the world, sending one missionary abroad per every 1,000 members. Seven of the world's 10 largest evangelical churches can be found in Seoul alone, a city where 110 years ago there was none.

In Latin America, a mostly Catholic region for the past 500 years, the number of evangelicals has grown from under 250,000 in 1900 to over 60 million in 2000. Critics of the Vatican say the vacuum left by Pope John Paul II's disavowal of the "basic Christian communities" movement has been filled by the evangelicals.

In 1960, the number of evangelicals living in the developing countries were one-half of those in the West; in the year 2000, they were four times more, and in 2010 they will be seven times as numerous.

In America, where even Protestant groups have lost 5.4 million members over the last decade, evangelicals have enjoyed a growth rate of 40 percent. They have become the largest religious force in the United States, with 26 percent of all — and they wield undeniable political clout.

Of course, the validity of such statistics depends on how one defines an evangelical, some definitions of which are so broad as to encompass devout Roman Catholics and Orthodox, in addition to those believers populating the various pentecostal, baptistic and free churches often thought to constitute the nucleus of the movement.

What about the so-called protestant mainline, such as the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Canada, and similar historic denominations? For the most part they are declining in numbers, with small, ageing congregations worshipping in large and increasingly difficult to maintain buildings. However, there are pockets of vitality, especially amongst the more confessional or evangelical congregations, but not exclusively, as indicated in this US News & World Report article: "Religion in America: Pumping life into mainline Protestantism." Still, given that such bodies as a whole are losing numbers, the Vatican will decreasingly perceive them to be a threat to the Catholic faithful. If Pontoniere is correct, the future of global Christianity would seem to lie with these ill-defined evangelicals — whoever they are.

09 June 2005

Shaw's amusing freethinkers

Yesterday Nancy and I spent the day in lovely Niagara-on-the-Lake, an historic community not quite an hour away which served as the first capital of Upper Canada at the end of the 18th century. Now it is a scenic and heavily touristed town boasting beautiful parks and gardens, quaint horse-drawn carriages, 19th-century architecture and, most notably, the Shaw Festival. The Shaw Festival consists of a series of theatres presenting stage plays written either by George Bernard Shaw himself (1856-1950) or by other playwrights during the nearly century-long course of his life. The Festival has run from April through October every year since 1962.

Today in Literature

George Bernard Shaw

Yesterday we saw Shaw's You Never Can Tell, which was first performed in 1898. Although I've not made a study of Shaw and his writings, I find him a fascinating figure because he is in many ways the paradigmatic 19th-century freethinker who retained much of the charm and naïveté of his type well into a very different age. He was, of course, one of the leading figures in Britain's socialistic Fabian Society, along with the likes of H. G. Wells and Sydney and Beatrice Webb. Out of all Shaw's works, I have personally seen, in addition to this play, Major Barbara (at the Shaw and on the screen) and the cinematic version of Pygmalion. And of course everyone has seen the latter's musical version, My Fair Lady. I may have seen one or two others as well over the decades.

You Never Can Tell is a comedy populated by amusing and eccentric characters, its plot revolving around a search for a lost father, a dentist unable to make a living on his own devices, an unlikely romance between a cad and a woman with "modern" ideas and, last but not least, changing mores at the end of a bourgeois century. Despite being well acted, yesterday's performance got off to a somewhat slow start, but Shaw's witty dialogue successfully carried the second half.

One of the characters is Finch M'Comas, a one-time bohemian in his youth who, by the time he has reached middle age, has cut his hair and donned a suit to become the Clandon family's solicitor. Here is M'Comas responding to Mrs. Clandon on their first meeting in many years:

You reproached me just now for having become respectable. You were wrong: I hold to our old opinions as strongly as ever. I don't go to church; and I don't pretend I do. I call myself what I am: a Philosophic Radical, standing for liberty and the rights of the individual, as I learnt to do from my master Herbert Spencer. Am I howled at? No: I'm indulged as an old fogey. I'm out of everything, because I've refused to bow the knee to Socialism.

With my interest in political ideologies, I like this line because it illustrates the way one philosophical school, considered trendy by one generation, is so quickly supplanted by another in the next. Spencer's social darwinism may have seemed the cutting edge of progressive opinion when it was first articulated, but socialists had by the end of the century effectively sidelined it as retrogressive. One wonders from this line whether Shaw might have had an intimation that his own socialist commitments might one day be deemed old-fashioned and superseded by something new.

It is also worth noting that this play's freethinkers all appear to have independent means. Most seem not to have to work for a living, and those who do are in the employ of those who don't. The lesson? If you are wealthy enough, you can indulge in all the freethinking and lifestyle eccentricities you wish, simply because you have the material resources to support them and are freed from the poverty to which such quirks will inevitably lead those of ordinary means. How many colourful eccentrics would Shaw have found amongst the Welsh coalminers of his day or the striking Pullman workers a few years earlier in far off Chicago? Not many, I venture to say. In a society characterized by widespread affluence, might such eccentrics multiply endlessly, with freethinking becoming the norm rather than the exception? Perhaps. It certainly seems to be the case that our society is more tolerant than were previous generations of social experimentation because the latter appears — at least in the short term — to have few if any deleterious consequences for that society as a whole.

All the same, if extensive affluence makes everyone a potential eccentric, it cannot make everyone a George Bernard Shaw. Shaw's plays are worth reading and, if you have the opportunity, viewing on stage. If you're ever in southern Ontario, the Shaw Festival is the place to see them.

07 June 2005

Poll on religion

An Associated Press/Ipsos poll on religious attitudes in 10 countries indicates that the United States and Mexico are the most devout. But Americans are least averse to mixing religion and politics, the poll reveals. Two observations and one question are in order here.

First, poll results are influenced by the way questions are asked. If respondents were asked whether their faith should have an influence on political life, they might have given more favourable replies than they did. But the question asked about clergy influence on politics, which would elicit a different response from many, especially in European countries with traditions of state-established churches.

Second, this report in The Seattle Times carries a revealing comment by John Green, an expert on religion and politics at the University of Akron: "The United States is a much more religious country than other similar countries, looks a lot like what you call developing countries, like Mexico, Iran and Indonesia." Ah yes. We've heard this one before: economic modernization is associated with loss of faith in a transcendent God. If the US doesn't conform to the supposed trend, it has to be the exception to the rule. By contrast, others have observed that, in the larger global context, secularizing western Europe is the exceptional region. (By the way, Brent Nelson, who is quoted in The Globe and Mail article, is a graduate of Wheaton College.)

Third and finally, one wonders what sorts of responses would be elicited if the pollsters' questions manifested an understanding that secularization represents, not a loss of faith, but a shift in the object of faith. The media might have a different story to report.

06 June 2005

European Switzerland?

Ever since they rebelled against the Holy Roman Emperor centuries ago, the Swiss have held themselves aloof from the rest of Europe. In fact, with non-EU Switzerland a fiercely independent enclave surrounded by EU members, the map of Europe looks rather like, well, Swiss cheese. Now the voters of Switzerland have opted in a referendum to become part of Europe's passport-free zone, established by the Schengen Agreement and Dublin Accords. It is interesting to note that the nay-saying cantons are within or near the nucleus of the original German-speaking Swiss Confederation, while those western cantons favouring the measure are relative newcomers. If the Swiss should ever bring themselves to join the EU outright, will they in effect be rejoining the Holy Roman Empire? It would certainly be one of history's great ironies.

05 June 2005

Koran abuse

Although Cal Thomas is undoubtedly right about Islam's double standard, perhaps we will have to admit that Newsweek was right after all: "Pentagon Admits Koran Desecration At Guantanamo Bay."
Sojourn in Tanzania

Bethany Givens is an undergraduate student at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, who is spending her summer on an academically-related project in Tanzania. She is a Christian who grew up in Andover, Massachusetts, as the fourth of six sisters. She has been overseas before and comes from quite the travelling family. During her time in east Africa, she is keeping a weblog of her experiences, and she's already had some interesting ones, even after only a week. I will be following her adventures closely.

Oh, I forgot to mention: Bethany Givens is my niece.
Spell check not comprehensive

Here are some of the commonly used words in my own writing which WordPerfect's spell check does not recognize: conservatisms, cosmonomic, creational, cultic, Dooyeweerd, dualist, emancipatory, eschaton, integralist, jurally, Kuyper, monisms, neocalvinism, neothomism, nonfalsifiable, nonidolatrous, normativity, normed, omnicompetent, ontologize, pistical, positivize, principial, pluriform, pluriformity, pluralisms, reductionisms, reductively, restorationism, soteriology, stewardly, Thomistic, totalizing, transformative, worldview.

04 June 2005

What next?

The number of appeals I am receiving from deposed African leaders or their relatives has increased dramatically in recent weeks. In fact, judging from the quantity, there seem to be many more such leaders than there are independent states in the entire world, much less Africa. Any day now I expect to receive a post such as this:


You may be surprised to receive this communication, as we have not met before. I am Michel Chrétien, son of deposed Canadian leader Jean Chrétien, and I would like to request your assistance in transferring $50,000,000 out of my country . . . .
Neocalvinism versus libertarianism

Our Burkean Canuck (Russ Kuykendall) argues, against a very young libertarian, that the "Amsterdam School" holds more promise than the "Austrian School" in articulating a foundation for just government in this country, and particularly within the Conservative Party of Canada. I would phrase it thus: a recognition of societal pluriformity will be more fruitful than a simple libertarian deprecation of government. Whether Kuykendall will get his wish within his favoured party remains to be seen. But, for those with libertarian leanings, his four points are worth reading and taking to heart.

03 June 2005

A balanced conference?

A conference in New York devoted to Examining the Real Agenda of the Religious Far Right met in April, under the joint sponsorship of People for the American Way, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the National Council of Churches, and the well-known opinion journals, The Nation and The Village Voice. Did the conference participants successfully achieve a balanced assessment of the subject under scrutiny? If this article is any indication, they may well have missed the mark.
Another grad photo

Here I am with the future prime minister of Canada, who has promised me a Senate appointment once she attains office.
The EU constitution

The media are proclaiming Europe in crisis over the back-to-back Franco-Dutch rejection of the new European constitution. However, no matter what sort of constitution EU leaders come up with, the unanimity requirement will prove to be a virtually insurmountable obstacle. They may have to content themselves with, not a traditional constitutional federation in Europe, but an asymmetrical treaty federation, with each member negotiating its own relationship with Brussels. In short, the new Europe will be less like the United States or Canada and more like the Holy Roman Empire.

Did the constitution's failure to mention Europe's christian heritage contribute to its defeat? Giorgio Salina, vice president of the Convention of Christians for Europe, thinks so. Would the inclusion of such a recognition have secured its approval? I doubt it.

02 June 2005

A Red Tory

While looking for an explanation of the Hartz-Horowitz thesis the other day, I came across a series of webpages belonging to one Ron Dart, who teaches politics and religion at the University College of the Fraser Valley in BC and is a self-described Red Tory. In fact, he even publishes a journal called The Friend: The Red Tory Review. Among other things, he is an aficionado of the late George Grant and looks to be a high-church Anglican to boot. Interesting fellow.

When I saw his name, I thought it looked familiar. Then I recalled he had written a severely critical review of Paul Marshall's Their Blood Cries Out in Sojourners, to which Marshall himself responded a few months later. Something of Dart's approach can be seen in this article, "Clark Pinnock: Canadian Theologian of the Empire." Pinnock is, of course, the controversial theologian now retired from McMaster Divinity College, just down the hill from Redeemer here in Hamilton. Dart argues that, although Pinnock's Wesleyanism is poles apart theologically from J. I. Packer's Calvinism, both are apologists for the American empire and have effectively betrayed "the Canadian High Tory and Conservative way." As such they are "theological compradors."

Of course, the defence of one's own is certainly a hallmark of virtually any conservatism worth its salt. On the other hand, simply to argue that Pinnock and Packer are flirting with American "republican" ideas ostensibly foreign to Canada does nothing in itself to tell us whether they are right or wrong in so doing. Yet if Dart were to attempt to address this issue, he would have to reach beyond his vaunted high tory conservatism and embrace some sort of general normative framework in which questions of right and wrong could more easily find a context. Perhaps it's time for him to investigate neothomism or neocalvinism, both of which claim to offer such a framework.
Mystery solved

So Mark Felt was the anonymous "Deep Throat" of Watergate fame. Now if only we could find out what happened to Jimmy Hoffa.
US abortion figures incorrect

Did the abortion rate in the United States increase during George W. Bush's presidency? So argued Glenn (or is it "Harold"?) Stassen, an ethics professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. Now a new report just out from Planned Parenthood's research arm says it ain't so. I'm sure Stassen is pleased to know that he is wrong and that the record has been set straight.
Graduation: another retrospective

At last saturday's commencement exercises we were pleased to have Dr. Jonathan Chaplin, of Toronto's Institute for Christian Studies, as keynote speaker, and I was privileged to introduce him. Sam Martin was the speaker for the graduating class and delivered a most eloquent address which I think many of us would love to see published somewhere — perhaps in Redeemer's Images magazine.

Political science graduates
Rob Joustra and Jared Wilms,
with yours truly

In 1994 my esteemed colleague, Dr. Al Wolters, in his capacity as master of ceremonies at the annual luncheon for faculty and graduands, commissioned me to compose a song for the occasion a few weeks in advance of the event. Given that I have long been an amateur musician, I was happy to oblige. I wrote a text and tune which I sang then and have done so on and off since then. Last saturday I sang it once more. Here are the lyrics, along with the music, which can be accessed by clicking on the title immediately below:

May the Father's Might Uphold You

May the Father's might uphold you every hour of every day.
May the peace of Christ enfold you as you follow in his way.
May the Spirit's love direct you all his precepts to obey.
May the Triune God protect you till we meet again one day.

Although from here our paths may part,
be sure that each believing heart
is bound together by his grace
until we see him face to face.

May the Father's might uphold you . . .

The way ahead may not be clear,
but with God's help we shall not fear,
for he will keep us in his sight
and guide us by his radiant light.

May the Father's might uphold you . . .

Text and Music Copyright © 1994 by David T. Koyzis.
All rights reserved.

01 June 2005

Nederland heeft 'nee' gezegd

Now it's the turn of the Dutch to vote down the new European constitution. Where to go from here? Given our own recent history, we Canadians might be forgiven for wondering why the constitution's architects didn't see it coming.
A neocalvinist dilemma: to fight or not to fight?

This three-way dialogue on pacifism and just war among Byron Borger, Col. Keith Pavlischek and G. van den Bosch posted on Gideon Strauss' blog is worth taking a look at. Reading this exchange prompts two observations:

First, I am pleased that being on active duty in Iraq affords sufficient time for reading and commenting on blogs. We would all be worse off without Keith to keep us on our collective toes.

Second, I wonder whether the use of the term violence in such discussions might not prejudice them already in a certain direction. According to Dictionary.com, violence means, among other things, "Physical force exerted for the purpose of violating, damaging, or abusing: crimes of violence," and "Abusive or unjust exercise of power." If we are speaking of the exercise of force by a duly constituted government led by the norm of justice, then it would appear that violence is not the appropriate label to use in this context, even if that force is potentially lethal. Is the use of force to restrain the extralegal exercise of violence itself violence? If so, then we might have to conclude that two wrongs cannot make a right and the discussion is over before it has begun.
Looking back

A couple of weeks ago I was going through the files in my home office, attempting to reorganize them and to weed out items no longer of interest to me. As I was doing this, I discovered a typed essay I wrote some 25 years ago, titled "A Brief Evaluation of American Conservatism." I can no longer say for certain the circumstances of my writing this, but I imagine it was written either when I was still in Toronto at the Institute for Christian Studies, or perhaps a little later when I had begun my PhD studies at Notre Dame. The outer limits would be from 1979 to 1981, so I am placing it in the middle: 1980, the year I moved from Toronto to South Bend. In any event, I was in my mid-20s. What struck me about this essay, reading it a generation later, is that I still agree with most of what I wrote then. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it anticipates much of the analysis in chapter 3 of my book, even if the latter is more nuanced and careful than the former.

To begin with, I noted that "there is no such thing as a single 'conservatism'; there are, in fact, many 'conservatisms.'" The American variety is an uneasy coalition between libertarian conservatism, or classical liberalism, and traditional or organic conservatism. The former is concerned with the size of government and the maintenance of free markets, while the latter is preoccupied with the erosion of the traditional values undergirding society and with such issues as abortion, "experimental social relationships and any change that would contribute to the breakdown of society." At the time I judged that in North America "the dominant form of conservatism is classical liberalism tempered by traditional conservatism. The former cannot strictly be called conservative at all, because genuine hierarchical or authoritarian traditions were largely left behind by those who settled this continent." This second sentence would seem to be evidence that I had already come into contact, via George Parkin Grant, with the Hartz-Horowitz thesis, the truth of which I am not altogether persuaded of now, even if I still find it intriguing.

Of course, the notion that North American conservatism consists of two or more quarrelsome factions is generally recognized today. In 1980 Robert Nisbet wrote a now classic essay in Modern Age titled "Conservatives and Libertarians: Uneasy Cousins." I do not know whether or not my own essay preceded Nisbet's. I am fairly certain I did not read the latter until a few years after its publication. In any event, the analysis of conservative factionalism has become something of a cottage industry since then. In fact, the new issue of First Things carries an article by Joseph Bottum on the subject, "The New Fusionism." And of course there is that article by Andrew Sullivan, on which I recently commented. I suppose what I was coming to see at the time is that liberalism and conservatism are not the polar opposites they are popularly thought to be and that it is possible to adhere to liberal contractarianism while respecting historical continuity and remaining sceptical of all but incremental change.

Here are a few paragraphs from my conclusion:

First of all, conservation does not necessarily exclude progression. We cannot ignore the movement of history when we analyze society and the political realm. Any conservatism which attempts to return to an earlier period of history is naive and irresponsible. Nor can one halt the flow of history at a certain moment of time. In other words, a Christian political option must be at once conservative and progressive.

Secondly, as Christians we urgently need to examine in a radical way the spiritual direction and foundation of our government and its activities. In other words, we need a new criterion by which to judge that which should be conserved and that to which we must progress. We cannot allow ourselves to fall into the trap of absolutizing conservation or progression. We must not put an idolatrous faith in conservatism or progressivism. Neither of these “-isms” is a complete world-view in itself. Both agree on the same liberal principles which have had almost universal acceptance throughout the history of the American republic. Conservatism and progressivism are merely two different emphases within the same ideology, which has its roots in the secular Enlightenment.

What sort of criterion is need for a radically Christian political option? It is, I would contend, nothing less than the biblical norm of “justice.” A true sense of justice will provide a norm for the two-fold task of conservation and progression within a radically Christian world-view. Certainly, “freedom” and “stability” are important concepts and should not be lost sight of. But they fall far short of providing a normative insight into the structure of the state. . . . Since the state is, by definition, a juridical institution (in distinction from other institutions with a differing structure), the norm for this institution must be some conception of justice.

While I would express all this somewhat differently a quarter of a century later, and while my understanding at the time lacked a certain philosophical sophistication, I am pleased to recognize that I still agree with the substance of what I wrote then. Of course, someone less charitable could argue that I haven't had a fresh insight in 25 years, at least not on this subject. Perhaps there is something to be said for such a charge. On the other hand, there is some comfort in knowing that I have been following the same direction for some time. I like to think that my trust in an utterly faithful God has had something to do with it.


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