22 June 2021

June newsletter

I have now posted my Global Scholars newsletter for the month of June here.

Are the Chronicles Redundant?

I have just published a brief article at Kuyperian Commentary: Are the Chronicles Redundant? An excerpt:

When I’ve read Chronicles in the past, I’ve sometimes thought that they are redundant, simply repeating what the books of Samuel and Kings had already recounted. In the larger biblical narrative, it feels as though the story, which thus far has been smoothly told from Genesis to the exile, is suddenly interrupted by an apparently unnecessary flashback, taking us all the way back to, well, Adam, the first human being. Then we are treated to a long series of proper names, some of whom are familiar but most of whom are not, leaving us wondering what relevance they could possibly have to the larger story of salvation. What harm would have been done by leaving them out and simply skipping from 2 Kings to Ezra?

In fact, the two books of Chronicles are most important. In the Jewish Bible they come at the very end of the collection, functioning as both recap and capstone, leaving the reader with a sense of expectation and hope. In the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, the books are called Paraleipomenon, which implies that the material therein supplements the books of Kings. Yet the Chronicles do not merely fill in the gaps in other books. The Chronicler brings to his work a distinctive emphasis which makes it more than just another historical account.

Read the entire article here.

17 June 2021

Mornings with Carme LaBerge appearance

Well, all right. One does not exactly "appear" on the radio, but early yesterday morning I spoke with Peter Kapsner on the programme Mornings with Carmen LaBerge about the subject of my recent blog series Dampening the Culture Wars. Peter is substituting for Carmen this week. It aired over Faith Radio, a network of stations covering the Great Plains states and Connecticut.

You can find the conversation here. I will warn you that this took place at 7.10 am, when I am not exactly in top form. But I will let the listeners judge for themselves.

09 June 2021

Grieving for Canada

Flags have been flying at half-staff in recent days for two horrific events dominating the news reports. First is the discovery of 215 unmarked graves of children who died at a residential school for aboriginal Canadians in Kamloops, British Columbia. These residential schools, often operated by church denominations at the instigation of the federal government, are a stain on the country's history. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission, modelled on South Africa's efforts to bring healing after decades of Apartheid, operated between 2008 and 2015, but we are still grappling with the horrors inflicted on so many aboriginal children from the late 19th century until well into the 20th.

And now in London, Ontario, a young man appears deliberately to have attacked an immigrant family from Pakistan with his vehicle, killing all but one person, a nine-year-old, still in hospital. It is suspected that they were targeted because they were Muslims.

07 June 2021

Visiones e Ilusiones Políticas

Late last week I received some welcome news from InterVarsity Press. Here is the communication from IVP:

As part of our publishing efforts, IVP seeks to expand the ministry of the books we publish to reach people around the world by sublicensing rights for specific languages, countries and/or formats.

We are pleased to inform you that Political Visions & Illusions (2nd Edition) has been contracted for publication in the Spanish language by Teología para Vivir S.A.C. Translations typically take 18-24 months (sometimes longer) to release. We'll be sure to send you copies of the translated edition once they arrive.

Congratulations on this good news!

Good news indeed! This means that the book will soon be available in all three of the major western hemispheric languages. Spanish is spoken by some 400-500 million people, making it one of the most spoken languages in the world. The largest Spanish-speaking countries in order are Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Spain, the United States, Venezuela, Peru, Chile, and many more. May God use this forthcoming translation to advance his kingdom in the hispanophone countries.

03 June 2021

Serving God in a Global Academy: A Look at Developments in Brazil

Yesterday afternoon I discussed my work with Global Scholars Canada for a series sponsored by the Oak Centre for Studies in Faith and Culture here in Hamilton. The title was Serving God in a Global Academy: A Look at Developments in Brazil. Clicking on the link will bring up the PowerPoint presentation I used for my talk.


To my delight several of my friends and contacts in Brazil joined us remotely for the occasion. I appreciated their questions, which I did my best to answer. Que Deus abençoe o povo brasileiro!



02 June 2021

Vida Nova interview

Last week I was interviewed by Jonas Madureira, of Edições Vida Nova, on the occasion of the release of the second Brazilian edition of Political Visions and Illusions. Most of it is in English with Portuguese subtitles. Here is the interview below:

01 June 2021

Reading Religion review: the place of the cross in political life

Matthew B. Hale has reviewed the second edition of Political Visions and Illusions in Reading Religion: A Publication of the American Academy of Religion. In addition to his praise for the book, the author has identified what he views as weaknesses. I shall not reply to all of these, but he makes one criticism worth a response, because it turned up in a review of the first edition as well:

Koyzis’s reliance on Herman Dooyeweerd’s modal analysis theologically grounds Koyzis’s interpretations and critiques in a theology of creation. But, strangely, Koyzis makes nothing of the cross. He mentions redemption often, and speaks of the redemptive narrative of the ideologies as they contrast with the Christian redemptive narrative. But the Christian redemptive narrative, centered on the cross, plays no role in Koyzis’s own political critiques or positions. This is an especially odd omission, and even more so given that theologians of many Christian communions have long recognized a profound political meaning in the cross. A theology of creation and a theology of sin are necessary for a Christian critique of political ideologies, but they are not sufficient. Without a politics that is informed by and centered upon the cross, an understanding of politics may be religious, but I wonder how exactly it would be distinctively Christian.

There can be no doubt that the cross is central to the Christian faith. For centuries people have erected crosses inside their church buildings and on top of steeples. People have worn precious metal crosses around their necks, bishops wear weighty pectoral crosses over their regalia, and congregations have carried crosses in procession on feast days. As St. Paul has written, "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18). Without Christ's death on the cross, we are still in our sins. Unless Christ had died, we would have to bear the penalty for our sins. As those who have been redeemed by the power of the cross and Jesus' subsequent resurrection, we sing hymns such as In the Cross of Christ I Glory and Lift High the Cross.

31 May 2021

Oak Centre Inklings conversation

 

Inklings Conversations Spring 2021 

(Wednesday June 2nd  from 4:00 5:30)

 

Ø Serving God in a Global Academy: a Look at Developments in Brazil,  A conversation with David T. Koyzis,

Ø Global Scholar, Politics & International Affairs   June 2nd  Join Zoom Meeting

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81901192524?pwd=STZodUxKcEZlZDVVQ1ltTmdxTGwxdz09

English l'Abri lecture: Discerning Visions and Illusions in Political Life

Late last week I addressed a group associated with English l'Abri at the invitation of Josué Reichow, a Brazilian who, along with his wife Lili, is affiliated with the organization. The lecture is titled Discerning Visions and Illusions in Political Life. Here is an excerpt:

Back in 1976 James W. Sire published a book called The Universe Next Door, subtitled, A Basic Worldview Catalog, in which he treated the different visions that animate the lives, not just of individuals, but of entire communities. Beginning with Christian theism, Sire went on to explore deism, naturalism, nihilism, existentialism, eastern pantheistic monism, the new age, and, in later editions, postmodernism, Marxism, and Islam. This may not have been the first worldview book ever published anywhere, but it definitely filled a need at the time.

24 May 2021

Alvo da Mocidade (Young Life Brazil)

Yesterday I was privileged to speak to a large group of young people, staffers for the organization Alvo da Mocidade, or Target Youth, the Brazilian counterpart of Young Life. I talked about my own life, my faith journey, and my book, Visões e Ilusões Políticas, which was just released in a second edition. I spoke at the invitation of my great friend Gabriel Lazarotti, who visited me in Canada a few years ago. At least one hundred people were in attendance, primarily from Belo Horizonte, the sixth largest city in Brazil. My principal translator was Gabriel Chaves, assisted by Diego Baião.


Ontem eu tive o privilégio de falar a um grande grupo de jovens, funcionários da organização Alvo da Mocidade, a homóloga brasileira do Young Life. Falei da minha própria vida, da minha trajetória de fé e do meu livro Visões e Ilusões Políticas, que acaba de sair em uma segunda edição. Falei a convite do meu grande amigo Gabriel Lazarotti, que me visitou no Canadá há alguns anos. Estiveram presentes pelo menos cem pessoas, principalmente de Belo Horizonte, a sexta maior cidade do Brasil. Meu principal tradutor foi Gabriel Chaves, auxiliado por Diego Baião.

22 May 2021

Interview in Gazeta do Povo

This week Guilherme de Carvalho, the head of l'Abri Brasil, interviewed me on the subject of the second Brazilian edition of Political Visions and Illusions. The interview was posted yesterday in the Gazeta do Povo: David Koyzis e as idolatrias políticas. There are two qualifications needed for reading the interview: a knowledge of Portuguese and a paid subscription to the periodical. For those with neither, here is a small sample in English:

I heard that you like very much Brazil and the Portuguese language! Are you following the local news? How do you read the Brazilian political landscape now?

I absolutely love Brazil and its people! As someone of Greek Cypriot parentage, I easily embrace friends when I see them. Brazil is an entire country of people who do the same thing! In this respect I find the social distancing mandated by the current pandemic deeply frustrating. I look forward to a return to normality. And I hope I will one day be able to return to Brazil and hug everyone I meet!

As for the Brazilian political landscape, I think the biggest issues are threefold: (1) the endemic corruption that has marred political life for decades; (2) the confidence people place in would-be political saviours in the presidency; and (3) the global pandemic, which has disproportionately affected Brazil. I believe these three elements are interconnected. This is where political ideologies play a role. If we are viewing reality through one of the lenses distorted by a false redemptive narrative, we will err in our proposed solutions to contemporary political and social ills. Furthermore, it may be that basic political reforms, along with an enduring change in public attitudes, are needed to break the hold of would-be Napoleonic figures in the public imagination.

As the good news of Jesus Christ continues to spread among Brazilians, let us pray that they will increasingly look to him for their salvation and scale back their expectations of political leaders. At the same time, imagine a Brazil where a public justice movement is in a position to elect candidates to congress and to the presidency. A movement dedicated to stamping out corruption and bringing integrity to the political process. Ora et labora! Pray and work to make it happen.
Learn Portuguese, take out a subscription, and read more here.
 


21 May 2021

Visões e Ilusões Políticas: Segunda Edição | David T. Koyzis

É bom saber que os brasileiros estão lendo a segunda edição do meu livro!



17 May 2021

May newsletter

I have now posted my Global Scholars newsletter for the month of May here.

10 May 2021

Second Brazilian edition

Last week was the launch date for the second Brazilian edition of Political Visions and Illusions, in Portuguese titled Visões e Ilusões Políticas. It is available from the publisher Edições Vida Nova and from the usual online vendors, including Amazon.co.br.

The book's translator was Leandro Bachega, who is a doctoral student at the Universidade de São Paulo. I am grateful for the hard work he put into this.

I look forward to receiving the author's copies soon. And I pray that this second edition will be a blessing to the people of Brazil, whom I have come to love greatly over the years. Eu adoro o povo brasileiro! Que Deus os abençoe!

07 May 2021

Why Liberalism Failed, a review

Just over three years ago, Bruce Ashford and I published a review of one of the more significant books in recent years: Patrick Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed. The Gospel Coalition published our review: Liberalism Failed Because It Collapsed Under Its Own Weight. Deneen's book merits mention twice in the 2nd edition of Political Visions and Illusions, which is now out in Portuguese translation. An excerpt from our review:

How and why is liberalism failing? Primarily because liberalism, as a centuries-old political philosophy, is rooted in a defective understanding of the human person. Liberalism ignores the person’s rootedness in local communities and their myriad customs and influences, replacing that rootedness with an inordinate allegiance to state and market, the instruments of our supposed liberation.

As Deneen sees it, the United States as a whole was established on liberal principles, and these have developed over the past nearly two and a half centuries in ways consistent with liberalism’s underlying presuppositions but inconsistent with a healthy social fabric. However, the overwhelming dominance of liberalism has been masked by the recent superficial polarization of the national political landscape into two factions.

Indeed, our most vociferous conflicts have pitted classical liberals, with their affection for a free market and small government, against progressive liberals, who view government as an instrument for the expansion of individual autonomy.
Read the entire article here.

04 May 2021

Visões e Ilusões Políticas, 2a edição, ampliada e atualizada

Mudei a fotografia e o link na barra lateral direita da primeira para a segunda edição de Visões e Ilusões Políticas.

I have changed the photograph and link in the right sidebar from the first to the second Brazilian edition of Political Visions and Illusions.

Aqui está a descrição do livro:

As ideologias políticas não são uma mera questão de governança. Elas são intrínseca e inescapavelmente religiosas. Elas reúnem inúmeras crenças sobre a natureza da realidade, dos indivíduos e da sociedade, e formam uma visão coletiva do que é o bem comum. O problema é que as ideologias políticas são também visões idólatras.

03 May 2021

Chaplin: Faith in Democracy

My friend Jonathan Chaplin has published a new book that I look forward to obtaining and reading soon: Faith in Democracy: Framing a Politics of Deep Diversity, published by SCM Press in England. Here is the description on the publisher's website:

What is the place of faith in public life in the UK? Beyond 'secularism' that seeks to relegate faith to the margins of public life, and a 'Christian nation' position that seeks to retain, or even regain, Christian public privilege, there is a third way. Faith in Democracy: Framing a Politics of Deep Diversity calls for an approach that maximises public space for the expression of faith-based visions within democratic fora while repudiating all traces of religious privilege. It argues for a truly conversational space, reflecting theologically on the contested concepts at the heart of the current debate about the place of faith in British public life: democracy, secularism, pluralism and public faith.

While the book addresses a British readership, I suspect it will have relevance for Canada and the United States as well. Once I have read it, I will be writing and posting a review.

28 April 2021

Abdullah Onar, architect

Abdullah Onar at his office, 1957

My father's best childhood friend was a Turkish Cypriot named Abdullah Onar (1929-2019) who came from a neighbouring village in the Karpas Peninsula. He became an architect who designed many buildings in the island. He was also a competent artist, some of whose works I have posted below. I recently came into contact with his great-grandnephew who lives in England, and I quickly discovered that we are distant DNA cousins, which likely means that Abdullah was related to us as well.

22 April 2021

Dampening the culture wars: a review

My series on Dampening the culture wars is now complete. Here is a review of the entire series for those wishing to read it from start to finish:

  1. How to get along while agreeing to disagree

  2. The features of power-sharing

  3. What is to be done?

  4. What is to be done? continued

  5. The Netherlands

  6. Lebanon

  7. Belgium

  8. Canada

  9. Cyprus

  10. The United States of America

  11. Concluding remarks

 I will likely be returning to this topic in future, but this is all for now.

21 April 2021

How does politics shape the way we see the world?

Some weeks ago Andrew Bertodatti, of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, interviewed me on the subject of my Political Visions and Illusions: How does politics shape the way we see the world? This was posted yesterday. Here is an excerpt:

How do you suggest believers approach public justice? In your view, what is the source of our disagreements about what justice requires?

There are two sources of our disagreements. First, we may disagree on basic principles of justice, in which case it may be that we have been negatively influenced by the redemptive stories told by the secular ideologies I treat in my book. Perhaps we have become Christian socialists, or Christian nationalists, or some such. A major reason for my writing this book is to move believers into examining themselves to see whether they are in fact accepting an unbiblical redemptive narrative and whether this might be adversely affecting their approach to political life.

20 April 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 11: Concluding remarks

My motive in writing this series has been to explore the ways in which people in leadership, representing diverse and potentially antagonistic communities, have undertaken to co-operate for political purposes. In the 1960s and '70s such arrangements were grouped together under the general rubric of consociationalism, a term borrowed from the writings of 16th-century political philosopher Johannes Althusius, whose Politics represents a minority pluralist stream in the modern age, otherwise dominated by a monistic emphasis on undisputed sovereignty. We noted at the outset that Sir Bernard Crick famously defined politics as the peaceful conciliation of diversity within a given unit of rule. All politics presupposes diversity in some measure: a diversity of political philosophies, a diversity of prudential judgements on practical policy issues, a diversity of legitimate interests, and so forth. But sometimes this diversity is of such an extreme nature that it threatens the ability of the system to accommodate it within a single framework. This is where a consociational arrangement can play a significant role.

Prince Philip's long life and Christian faith

My regular column in Christian Courier was posted yesterday: Prince Philip's long life and Christian faith, subtitled, "From a troubled childhood to the longest-serving prince consort." An excerpt:

Baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church, Philip converted to the Church of England at the time of his marriage to Princess Elizabeth in 1947. At the same time he was granted several titles, most notably Duke of Edinburgh.

The writers for The Crown suggest that Prince Philip flirted with atheism in his younger years, but former Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, claims to The Yorkshire Post that Philip discussed with him freely his and the Queen’s shared rootedness in the Christian faith: “Of course, the Queen and I are so strong in Jesus Christ.” His remarkable mother, Princess Alice, had founded an order of Orthodox nuns in Greece, spent the war years sheltering Jews during the German occupation, and ended her life at Buckingham Palace with her son and daughter-in-law. Her presence in Philip’s life likely had an impact on his own faith. Nevertheless, he was known to be inquisitive about other religions and was interested in fostering interfaith dialogue.

Read the entire column here.

15 April 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 10: the United States of America

Thus far we have examined several countries, most of which have attempted in large or small ways to bridge the chasms separating distinct communities within a single polity by formulating practical means of sharing power at the level of leadership. In the Netherlands the cleavages were religious and ideological. In Belgium they started out religious/ideological but shifted to linguistic after the Second World War. In Lebanon the cleavages were religious—or sectarian, as some prefer. In Canada the cleavage was primarily linguistic, with elements of religion and ideology thrown in. In Cyprus the cleavage was ethnic and religious, greatly exacerbated by nationalist ideology.

Now we turn to the United States, which, over the past two generations, has become increasingly divided along ideological and religious lines. In this respect, the United States, which once stood aloof from the trends affecting Europe, is coming to resemble France in the wake of the Revolution and ensuing Napoleonic debacle.

09 April 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 9: Cyprus

Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, located off the coast where Asia Minor turns into the Levant. It has been a crossroads of virtually all the imperial powers in the region, having been controlled successively by the Romans, the Byzantines, the Lusignan dynasty, the Venetian Republic, the Ottoman Turks, and finally the British, before receiving independence in 1960 as a member state of the Commonwealth of Nations. The population of Cyprus is overwhelmingly Greek-speaking, with the Greek presence in the island dating back nearly 3,000 years. The population has, of course, fluctuated over the centuries and is currently estimated to stand at just over 1 million. Around half a century ago, the island had around 650,000 people of whom 80 percent were Greek-speaking and Orthodox Christian, and just under 20 percent Turkish-speaking Sunni Muslim. The Turkish-Cypriot community was a remnant of the centuries of Ottoman occupation between 1571 and 1878.

In 1878 Great Britain received administrative control over Cyprus as part of the settlement that ended the Russo-Turkish war of the previous year. The first British colonial high commissioner was Sir Garnet Wolseley (1833-1913), who had put down the Red River rebellion in Canada nearly a decade earlier. From 1878 until 1914, the island's residents remained nominal subjects of the Ottoman Sultan, but when Britain entered the Great War against Turkey, she annexed it outright, lest its residents be considered enemy aliens. Cyprus became a Crown colony in 1925. My father was born there three years later and grew up in the Greek Orthodox community, although he had Turkish Cypriot friends, including a boy born exactly one year after he was. This man remained one of his best friends throughout their long lives.

06 April 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 8: Canada

Ordinarily we wouldn't think of placing Canada in the category of consociational arrangements, and for the most part we'd be right. The Westminster system of cabinet government seems tailor-made for a polity characterized by a high degree of internal homogeneity, which Canada obviously is not. The current British system, on which Canada's is based, developed gradually over the course of many centuries without the guidance of a constitutional document but under the accumulated deposit of a large number of statutory instruments, including the following:

  • Magna Carta (1215)
  • Petition of Right (1628)
  • Habeas Corpus Act (1679)
  • Bill of Rights (1689)
  • Act of Settlement (1701)
  • Reform Act (1832)
  • Various acts expanding the franchise (1867, 1884, 1928)
  • Life Peerages Act (1958)
  • Scotland Act (1998)
  • House of Lords Act (1999)

05 April 2021

England and the 'peculiar institution'

Recently I read an abridged volume of Sir William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, which were published between 1765 and 1769 in four books, titled Of the Rights of Persons, Of the Rights of Things, Of Private Wrongs, and Of Public Wrongs. Blackstone's Commentaries were hugely influential on the American founders, who drew on his analyses as they were establishing their new federal republic in North America. (Blackstone appears to have been less influential in Canada. I find only two references to him in the parliamentary debates leading up to Confederation in 1867, and one of these is negative.) Yet one area in which Blackstone was not followed consistently was on slavery.

01 April 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 7: Belgium

These days when we hear of Brussels, we think, not of the kingdom of Belgium of which it is the capital city, but of the European Union and its institutions, many of which are located here. When Europeans complain about Brussels, they generally have in mind faceless "Eurocrats" whose decisions are often seen as needlessly interfering with their lives and livelihoods. But Belgium as a country, so often overshadowed by its better-known capital city, merits examination as an historical example of consociationalism, and one whose character has shifted over the past century, as language has come to supplant religion and ideology as the principal line of cleavage in its divided populace.

Belgium became independent almost by accident. For centuries its fate was tied to that of the remainder of the lowlands of northwestern Europe, a part of the Holy Roman Empire that passed into the hands of Spain in 1556. While the Dutch revolt beginning in 1568 sent shock waves throughout these provinces, the Spanish Habsburgs under Philip II managed to retain control of the southern provinces, cut almost in two by the episcopal principality of Liège, a collection of ecclesiastical lands over which the Bishop of Liège exercised political rule. In 1714 the Spanish Netherlands passed into the hands of the Austrian branch of the Habsburgs, who retained control until they were dislodged by the French Revolution.

30 March 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 6: Lebanon

The Middle East, at one time called the Near East, has been politically unstable for just over a century, when the victors in the Great War divided the territory of the former Ottoman Empire between them. France and Great Britain were the principal parties to this division, with the former receiving Syria and the latter receiving Palestine and Mesopotamia. The borders were artificial and did not correspond to the boundaries between the various communities in the region. Britain set up Iraq (southern Mesopotamia) and the Trans-Jordan as monarchies under the Hashemite dynasty. 

For its part France divided the former Ottoman province of Syria into two, with the southern coastal area, with its Christian majority, designated as Lebanon, or the Lebanon, as it was often referred to in English. France deliberately separated Lebanon from the remainder of Syria to accommodate this Christian population, who would otherwise have been a minority in a greater Syria. Christian communities survived in Lebanon because of their relative isolation in its higher-elevation topography. Nevertheless, Lebanon had a substantial Muslim minority who were more oriented towards their co-religionists in neighbouring Syria than to the west. For them the division of Syria seemed arbitrary and artificial.

26 March 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 5: the Netherlands

In the first four instalments of this series, we explored some of the principal characteristics of power-sharing in a divided polity, which collectively are often called consociational. I noted that there is no single form of consociational arrangement but that all are intended to facilitate co-operation among leaders of sharply divided communities for proximate political purposes. Each country that has happened upon such an arrangement has its own story. Today I will focus on the Netherlands.

25 March 2021

Our Need for a Creed

Kuyperian Commentary has published my article, Our Need for a Creed. The occasion for my writing this was our congregation singing a hymn not usually sung in churches standing in the Reformed tradition: "My faith has found a resting place, Not in device nor creed," which suggests that there is something wrong with creedal statements. An excerpt:

The most ecumenical of our creeds, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, was compiled in the heat of controversy over the person of Christ and the divinity of the Holy Spirit in the 4th century, when on two occasions the bishops of the church were assembled, following the precedent established in Acts 15, to settle the issues at stake. The result was a creed that is binding on both eastern and western churches. Originally expressed in the first-person-plural—”We believe in one God”—it was later modified to speak in the first-person-singular: “I believe in one God . . . .” But whether in the plural or the singular, it expresses beautifully the faith of a community. Adhering to this faith is not only a sign of inclusion, as some might express it today. It is a matter of life and death, as the pseudo-Athanasian creed tells us: “This is the catholic faith: one cannot be saved without believing it firmly and faithfully.” To stray beyond the boundaries of the faith is to place oneself in peril. Thus the need for a creed.

Read the entire article here.

The Virtual Illusion: Social Media’s Uneasy Relationship with Real Community

Cateclesia Forum has just published my essay, The Virtual Illusion: Social Media’s Uneasy Relationship with Real Community. An excerpt:

We live in an age when there is an unprecedented amount of information bombarding us from all directions. With computer technology’s great leap forward in the 1980s and ’90s, our social networks have expanded exponentially, keeping us in constant contact with friends, family, and co-workers around the world. This interconnectedness has refashioned our notion of community, bursting through the old geographical limits that once circumscribed our social circles.

But what has this done to our lives as members of specific communities? If our loyalties are more diffuse than ever before, and if each of us can in effect create his or her own community, how has this affected, for example, the political bonds of solidarity that hold citizens together in a public legal community ordered to doing justice? What, further, is this doing to the church institution?

Read the entire article here.

22 March 2021

City planning: Paris in Chicago

When I was a child, I fancied myself becoming an architect or a city planner and nurtured this ambition right up until my first year in high school. Growing up near Chicago, I was fascinated by this city's many cultural attractions, of which the Art Institute in particular stands out. Around 1850, when my 4th great-grandparents, Jeremiah and Nancy (Bridgeman) Davis moved from North Carolina to Cave-in-Rock, Illinois, along the Ohio River across from Kentucky, Americans thought that the centre of population growth in Illinois would be along the Rivers in the southern part of the state. At the time Chicago was a village of some 30,000 people along Lake Michigan in the far north.

19 March 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 4: what is to be done? continued

In last Friday's post I outlined four initial characteristics of a consociational political arrangement. These are 1. Executive power-sharing or grand coalitions; 2. Balanced executive-legislative relations, semi-separation of powers; 3. Balanced bicameralism & minority representation; and 4. Multi-party system. Now we move on to numbers 5 and 8 which will fill out the principal characteristics of a political arrangement based on power-sharing among potentially antagonistic communities.

12 March 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 3: what is to be done?

In my previous posts I discussed the role that various consociational mechanisms have played in allowing potentially hostile subcultures to live together under the same political system. In my last post I mentioned four broad characteristics conducive to this co-existence: (1) élite accommodation, (2) mutual veto or concurrent majority, (3) proportionality in representation,  and (4) segmental autonomy. Now it's time to unpack these further into eight categories, which are useful as we compare them to the majoritarian principles employed in most English-speaking democracies, including Canada and the United States. These eight characteristics, four of which we shall look at today are based on empirical observation, but they might also be said to constitute an agenda for allowing potentially antagonistic subcultures to live together in peace. It might not fit well on a placard, and it doesn't lend itself to easy sloganeering, but it may be time to move beyond that.

10 March 2021

Canada's Crown: more than a symbol

Following the explosive interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle earlier in the week, Canadians and citizens of other Commonwealth realms may be rethinking their ties to the Crown. After a royal scandal, we can almost always count on someone, usually at The Toronto Star, to write an op-ed piece advocating that we scrap the monarchy and adopt an elected head of state. Thus it is refreshing to read this analysis at CBC News by Aaron Wherry: Time for Canada to retire the Queen? It's not that simple. An excerpt:

Any move to cut ties with the monarchy would, for instance, likely bring with it renewed calls for an elected head of state. That might seem like the sort of thing any respectable nation should have in 2021. But the possible future implications for the rest of Canada's political system should not be ignored.

09 March 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 2: the features of power-sharing

The late British political scientist Sir Bernard Crick (1929-2008) famously wrote that politics is all about the peaceful conciliation of diversity in a particular unit of rule. "Politics arises from accepting the fact of the simultaneous existence of different groups, hence different interests and different traditions, within a territorial unit under a common rule." It represents "at least some tolerance of differing truths, some recognition that government is possible, indeed best conducted, amid the open canvassing of rival interests." Totalitarian regimes pretend that a single interest characterizes entire societies and treats those failing to conform to it as enemies of the state. But ordinary politics presupposes diversity and formulates ways to address it rather than to suppress it.

08 March 2021

A Creed for troubled times

Christian Courier carries my monthly column in its new issue: A creed for troubled times: Proclaiming the resurrection amidst lockdowns and political tension. An excerpt:

Throughout the world many Christians recite or chant on a weekly basis the ancient Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, with these familiar closing lines: “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” When repeated so frequently, it is easy to neglect their inner meaning. Yet the words enter our hearts in a subconscious way, available to us when we need them.

And now, of all times, we definitely need them. The past year has been difficult for so many people. We long ago tired of the imposed (necessary) lockdowns. Tensions have boiled over into violence in the United States, Russia, and even the otherwise peaceful Netherlands. Existing societal divisions have been exacerbated by the need for physical distancing. More than two million people have died from COVID-19, and some of these deaths have touched family and friends. . . .

During these troubled times, the message of Easter takes on deeper meaning. In 12 years, we will celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of Jesus’ death and resurrection, by far the most significant events in human history. For just as God raised Jesus from the dead, so he has promised that we too shall be raised at the last day. This is something that I am taking great comfort in after seeing so much adversity in so many people’s lives.

Read the entire column here.

Robert J. Bernhardt (1940-2021)

Our good friend Robert J. Bernhardt, an ordained minister of word and sacrament in the Presbyterian Church in Canada, has died in the hope of the resurrection. His obituary can be found here: Rev. Dr. Robert James Bernhardt "Dr. Bob". I had known Bob for more than thirty years, and I had one of his daughters in my Canadian politics class the first time I taught it. Our family were for a short time parishioners of his at Chalmers Presbyterian Church here in Hamilton. Our condolences go to his family, especially his wife Jan, their three daughters and their families. We look forward to meeting again at the resurrection of the righteous.

05 March 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 1: how to get along while agreeing to disagree

In the aftermath of the French Revolution, France became a divided polity with one half of the country favouring its legacy of republicanism and secularism, and the other half retaining its loyalty to its older traditions of monarchy and Roman Catholic Christianity. Over the next nearly two centuries, France lurched back and forth between republican rule and two varieties of monarchical rule exemplified by the Bourbon-Orleanist kings and the Bonapart emperors. Altogether there were five republics, two monarchies, two empires, the Paris Commune, and the collaborationist Vichy régime of Marshal Philippe Pétain. During this unstable era, France suffered a series of military defeats in 1815, 1871, 1940, 1954, and 1962, and endured a succession of paper constitutions which, according to one observer, amounted to little more than "periodical literature." Other European countries were affected by a similar cleavage, as seen, for example, in Bismarck's Kulturkampf in imperial Germany and the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).

However, a few countries, while similarly divided, were spared the worst effects of this cleavage. Here the leaders of the different communities learned to co-operate for political and other common purposes, even as their respective constituents remained separated within their own communities. No longer was each side attempting to defeat the others and to gain power at their expense. Rather, they formulated ways of sharing power at the higher levels while tolerating a wide scope of diversity on the ground. Catholics, Protestants, liberals, and socialists maintained their own distinctive institutions, ranging from fraternal societies, schools, business enterprises, labour unions, artists co-operatives, and charitable foundations to print and electronic media and political parties. In short, the communities' leaders had come up with a way, in effect, to live and let live, permitting a high degree of communal autonomy so that one community would not feel oppressed by the others. Political mechanisms—some constitutional, others statutory, and still others merely conventional—were established to maintain a precarious balance among the several communities, often based on grand coalitions among several political parties, coupled with qualified majority requirements for the most significant of policy issues.

02 March 2021

Academic freedom in crisis? Towards genuine educational pluriformity

This is an important study: Academic Freedom in Crisis: Punishment, Political Discrimination, and Self-Censorship, undertaken by the very new Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology (CSPI). According to its website, "The Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology (CSPI) was formed in 2020 to help support research into underexplored ideas in political psychology and the social sciences. With the rise of populism, increasing polarization, and identity-based movements across the world, there has rarely been a better time to study these topics." So what are the findings of this new study? This is from the executive summary:

26 February 2021

Dois livros recebidos

Esta semana eu recebi dois livros de Editora Monergismo, Brasília: Thiago Moreira, Abraham Kuyper e as Bases para uma Teologia Pública (2020) e Derek C. Schuurman, Moldando um Mundo Digital: Fé, Cultura e Tecnologia Computacional (2019). Schuurman é um bom amigo meu, e eu tive o privilégio de escrever o prefácio para o livro dele.





Trent University Conservative Club

Last evening I was privileged to speak remotely to the Trent University Conservative Club at the invitation of a former student currently enrolled there. Trent University is in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. I spoke on the subject of "How Socialism Suppresses Society," on which I have spoken before elsewhere. The gist of my argument is that, while socialists rightly esteem communal ownership of property, they err in three ways: (1) they see it as the solution to the so-called social question, that is, the age-old existence of poverty; (2) they fail to recognize that communal ownership of property already exists, and in multiple forms; and (3) they seek to consolidate all of these into a single form, which generally leads to state absolutism, especially in its Marxist-Leninist version.

Here is an earlier version of this talk which I delivered at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2017. Naturally last evening's version was adapted to a different audience, but the substance was the same. This one includes Portuguese subtitles for my Brazilian readers.



22 February 2021

February tidbits

Here are links to three articles that have come to my attention in recent weeks. All have to do with religion's influence on public life.

The American Exception: How faith shapes economic and social policy, by Benjamin M. Friedman, in the January/February 2021 issue of Harvard Magazine. Excerpt:

Because it is true that economics emerged from the Enlightenment, and because the conventional image of the Enlightenment downplays the importance attached to religion in favor of humanistic thinking, the commonplace assumption is that economics in turn likewise stands apart from religious ideas. This is not true, nor has it been, ever since the inception of economics as a modern intellectual discipline. Taking account of the influence of religious thinking is essential to a full understanding of one of the great areas of modern human thought.

If evangelical Christians are called to live in truth, why do so many believe political conspiracies?, by Peggy Wehmeyer, in The Dallas Morning News. Excerpt:

People I know and care about still hold a shocking but unshakable belief that a deep state, involving the Supreme Court, federal judges, election officials and mainstream media, stole the White House from Donald Trump. But evangelical Christians are people who are called to live as though the truth is true, no matter the cost. I share my friends’ conservative moral values as well as their disdain for some of the progressive policies of the Democratic Party. But my fear of where President Joe Biden might take us doesn’t tempt me to swallow a web of conspiracy theories whole.

How the Civil Rights Movement Converted Liberal White Protestants to Secularism, by Daniel K. Williams, at Anxious Bench. Excerpt:

After the 1960s, mainline Protestant denominations experienced a decades-long continuous decline in membership. While the causes of the decline are complex, most analyses have pointed to one central factor: the failure of mainline Protestant churches to retain their children, first with the Baby Boomers, and then with Gen-Xers and millennials.  And while a few of these youth left mainline Protestantism for conservative evangelical or Catholic churches, most became nonreligious. Yet in many cases – especially if they pursued graduate education – they retained the progressive political commitments that some of their pastors had acquired in the civil rights movement. But now that they had the moral commitment that came from the civil rights movement, they no longer saw the need for organized religion – especially organized religion that was not quite as fervent in its social justice commitments.


18 February 2021

The Enthroned Self: Carl Trueman’s Account of a Revolution

The Cateclesia Institute has published my review of Carl Trueman's recent book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to the Sexual Revolution: The Enthroned Self: Carl Trueman’s Account of a Revolution. An excerpt:

In exploring the Revolution’s architecture in part one, Trueman draws on three twentieth-century figures—Philip Rieff, Charles Taylor, and Alasdair MacIntyre—whose categories he believes help us to understand recent history. Rieff, whose Triumph of the Therapeutic (1966) anticipated current trends, analyzed western history in terms of three successive worlds. The first world is pagan, and its ethic is rooted in myth, such as the predictive power ascribed to the Delphic oracle. Human beings are subject to an impersonal fate that prevents them controlling the outcomes of their lives. Man in a first-world culture is political man (Trueman, 44). The second world is characterized by faith rather than fate—a faith in a God who has revealed himself in specific ways to specific peoples. Human laws are in some sense based on the will of this God, who underpins the customs and mores of entire societies. In a second-world culture, political man gives way to religious man. Both the first and second worlds justify themselves by reference to a transcendent sacred order.

17 February 2021

Biden's Burden

The new issue of Christian Courier carries my monthly column, "Principalities & Powers," titled, Biden's Burden: Will the new American president be able to make good on his promises? An excerpt:

I’ve often said that an American president must function as both king and prime minister, and that few have played each role equally well. I believe that Biden’s address was a suitably regal speech, laudably attempting to unite a divided nation – something that his immediate predecessor seemed altogether incapable of doing. But what sort of prime minister will he make? Presidential promises to bridge divisions too often falter over the reality of divisive policies pursued in the Oval Office and in Congress. And these will inevitably hamper his efforts towards unity.

Historically Biden has been a moderate Democrat, shunning the more radical elements in his own party. But over the decades he has also shown himself to be flexible, or, to put the matter more negatively, irresolute, changing his convictions as the times and his party appear to demand. This makes Biden’s actual discharge of his duties somewhat difficult to predict. Will he expand and harden the Democrats’ non-discrimination regime, even at the expense of religious liberty? Or will he refrain from unduly interfering in the institutions of civil society and the standards they maintain as part of their core identities? How he approaches this will determine whether he is genuinely capable of reaching out to his political opponents.

Read the entire column here.

11 February 2021

Christianity and Political Life

Just over a year ago, in November 2019, I spoke at the Indonesian Reformed Evangelical Church (IREC) Trinity in Toronto, pastored by the Rev. Joshua Lie, on the subject of "Christianity and Political Life." Here is the video of my talk, which I've also posted on my RECENT ACTIVITIES page. You may need to turn up the sound to hear it.


WSJ on Catholic social teachings

On 5 February this article by Francis X. Rocca appeared in The Wall Street Journal: Can Catholic Social Teaching Unite a Divided America? Subtitle: "President Biden, Sen. [Marco] Rubio and many non-Catholic thinkers see a way forward in the church’s long tradition of public discourse, even as they disagree in interpreting it." The article is behind a pay wall, but here is a brief excerpt:

What is Catholic social teaching? And why should it matter to the nearly 80% of Americans who do not belong to the church?
 
A body of doctrine on law, politics and economics developed by popes since the late 19th century, Catholic social teaching has historically been more influential in Europe and Latin America than in the U.S. But some on both sides of the aisle, not all of them Catholic, say its concepts are especially needed at this fractured moment in American politics. “If you’re looking for a way to bridge differences and find some unity and healing, Catholic social teaching offers a path forward that challenges both right and left and calls us to work together for the common good,” said John Carr, a former adviser to the U.S. bishops who teaches at Georgetown University and who endorsed Mr. Biden last fall. “In a society with very few strong moral paradigms left, Catholic social thought is a well-organized tradition that has something for both left and right,” said Adrian Vermeule, a conservative professor of constitutional law at Harvard University. “Catholicism, despite or because of our polarized age, is becoming something like an organizing common language for a great deal of American public life.” . . .

10 February 2021

Schuman Talk

Yesterday Jeff Fountain interviewed me for the latest episode of Schuman Talks, under the auspices of the Schuman Centre for European Studies. Robert Schuman (1886-1963) was a French statesman born in Luxembourg and one of the founders of the European Union in the 1950s.



The Last Caravan

In November of 1950, when he was 22 years old, my father travelled with a camel caravan from Kano, Nigeria, where he was living at the time, to Timbuktu, then in French West Africa. He seems to have stayed in the latter city through January of 1951, apparently growing a beard at a time when beards were far from fashionable. Timbuktu is a fabled city at its height during western Europe's late Middle Ages, when it was a centre of learning and commerce in the heart of Islamic west Africa. Today it contains a huge number of ancient manuscripts which residents have kept safe from invaders for centuries, most recently during the troubles of the second decade of the 21st century. It's still a largely Muslim city, with its glory days behind it. But my father was determined to see it, recounting his experiences in the form of a lengthy epic poem, mostly in a very rough iambic tretrameter in 660 quatrain stanzas in English. The accompanying photograph is one he took during his trek through the Sahara.

My father died in August of last year at the good old age of 92.

09 February 2021

Order of Malta

I've long been fascinated by the Order of Malta, formally known as the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, because of its unusual status as a holdover from a much earlier era and its one-time connection with my father's native island of Cyprus. Established almost a thousand years ago in 1048, it was once headquartered successively in Jerusalem, Cyprus, Rhodes, and Malta. As such it functioned as a sovereign territorial entity with its own military, led by a grand master. Sovereignty over Malta ended when Napoleon captured the islands in 1798 during his Egyptian expedition. Now located in the Grand Magistral Palace, on Via Condotti in Rome, the Order of Malta still retains some of the trappings of statehood and maintains diplomatic relations with 110 states. It mints its own coins, produces its own stamps, and issues its own passports. However, without territory many would judge that it cannot be considered a state, as James Kerr-Lindsay concludes in this video:


In 2008 the Order established diplomatic relations with Canada, although the two did not exchange ambassadors as such. Canada's contact with the Order is through this country's ambassador to the Vatican.


04 February 2021

Laymen's Lounge interview

My recent conversation with Mike Wagenman has been posted at The Laymen's Lounge: Civil Society in a Time of Cultural Division. An excerpt:

I would love to see Christians and other likeminded citizens mobilize to launch a public justice movement. What would it look like? Unlike liberals and socialists, it would unequivocally affirm the institutions and communities of what collectively is often called civil society. Rather than attempt to have government solve every problem, it would recognize that a healthy society requires a variety of communal formations to function according to their respective callings. Businesses take seriously their stewardship of the limited resources of the earth. Families nurture the next generation and care for the aged. Schools educate children and youth. Churches gather people together to worship God and serve their neighbours. Labour unions protect workers in the workplace. Political parties formulate policy agendas seeking public justice and the common interest. You get the idea. Government would be less about solving problems and more about maintaining the legal space for a variety of agents—both individual and communal—to do what they do best.

Read the entire conversation here. Learn more about The Laymen's Lounge.

03 February 2021

Joseph's 'Little Bible'

My January column for Christian Courier was just posted online two days ago: Joseph's 'Little Bible'.

As I was preparing a chapel meditation on Job some weeks ago, I read a commentary that described Job’s story as a microcosm of the entire biblical redemptive narrative. It begins with an idyllic life of one of God’s servants, takes him through the darkest valleys of affliction, brings in his friends’ proposed solutions to his plight, and ends with God restoring Job’s fortunes. This prompted me to look at other examples of “little bibles” in the Scriptures, and I believe several can be found in the first book of the Bible, one of which I will explore here.

The story of Joseph always moves me emotionally when I read it, as it recounts a tale of reconciliation and forgiveness in a severely dysfunctional family. Yet it has some peculiar features which make for a complicated relationship with the larger biblical narrative. Joseph is the hero of the story. Or is he?

Read the entire article here.

02 February 2021

Cristianismo e ideologias políticas

 As minhas aulas para o Seminário Jonathan Edwards agora estão disponíveis.



Schuman Centre talk coming up

The Schuman Centre for European Studies will be hosting this online event next week. The time will be noon EST in North America. I'll be speaking with Jeff Fountain.



01 February 2021

Electoral reform at last? The case for representation

The institutions of democracy are supposed to represent the citizens' political convictions, but all too often they fail at this central task. The chief problem is that elections are more about winners and losers than about representation. And this could be exacerbating the current political crisis in the United States.

Both Canada and the United States operate according to what political scientists call a single-member-plurality (SMP) system, or what the popular media call first-past-the-post. In a single-member constituency candidates compete for one office, the winner being the one receiving the largest number, or plurality, of votes. Where three candidates are evenly matched, it is possible for one to win with only slightly more than a third of the total number of votes cast. In the last Canadian federal election in 2019, Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party received 33.12 percent of the votes cast--just under a third of the total! Yet Trudeau remains prime minister leading a single-party minority government against the preferences of two-thirds of Canadian voters. That this is considered acceptable in a democratic country skirts the edges of insanity.

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