Category Archives: American History

MY GO TO FRENCHIE

I interviewed Tracy McKenzie of Wheaton College.  He is a terrific guy and stellar historian.  Like me, he finds Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, one of the most relevant books ever written on our country.  And it was penned by a Frenchman visiting our land in the early 1830s.  Here is a sample of quotes Tracy liked from his terrific blog at https://faithandamericanhistory.wordpress.com/

* “Generally speaking, only simple conceptions can grip the mind of a nation.  An idea that is clear and precise even though false will always have greater power in the world than an idea that is true but complex.”

* “Man firmly believes a thing because he accepts it without looking deeply into it.  He begins to doubt when objections are raised.  In many cases he succeeds in laying all his doubts to rest and begins to believe again.  Then he no longer clings to a truth plucked at random from the darkness but stares truth in the face and marches directly toward its light. . . . We can be sure that the majority of men will remain in one of these two states: they will either believe without knowing why, or not know precisely what they ought to believe.”

* “But nothing is harder than the apprenticeship of liberty.  This is not true of despotism.  Despotism often presents itself as the remedy for all ills suffered in the past.  It is the upholder of justice, the champion of the oppressed, and the founder of order.  Nations are lulled to sleep by the temporary prosperity to which it gives rise, and when they are awake, they are miserable.”

* “Americans do not converse; they argue.”

* “In America centralization is not popular, and there is no cleverer way to court the majority than to rail against the alleged encroachments of the central government.”  

* “Now, what has to be said in order to please the voters is not always what would best serve the political opinion they profess.”

* “It is astonishing to see how few, how weak, and how unworthy are the hands into which a great people can fall.”

And My All-Time Favorite . . .

* “When the past is no longer capable of shedding light on the future, the mind can only proceed in darkness.”

Alexis de Tocqueville, circa 1850

LORD HAVE MERCY!

I am more convinced than ever that Christian support for Trump is a collosal mistake.  What ever happened to invoking the founding fathers like Madison on the indispensability of character in our politicians?

The piece below is by Michael Gerson, former speechwriter for George W. Bush.  It is from John Fea’s terrific blog, The Way of Improvement.  At the very least, read the final three paragraphs of Gerson’s article.

Even in an era of marriage diversity, it remains the most unlikely match: President Trump and his loyal evangelical base. In the compulsively transgressive, foul-mouthed, loser-disdaining, mammon-worshiping billionaire, conservative Christians “have found their dream president,” according to Jerry Falwell Jr.

It is a miracle, of sorts.

In a recent analysis, the Pew Research Center found that more than three-fourths of white evangelical Christians approve of Trump’s job performance, most of them “strongly.” With these evangelicals comprising about a quarter of the electorate, their support is the life jacket preventing Trump from slipping into unrecoverable political depths.

The essence of Trump’s appeal to conservative Christians can be found in his otherwise anodyne commencement speech at Liberty University. “Being an outsider is fine,” Trump said. “Embrace the label.” And then he promised: “As long as I am your president, no one is ever going to stop you from practicing your faith.” Trump presented evangelicals as a group of besieged outsiders, in need of a defender.

This sense of grievance and cultural dispossession — the common ground between The Donald and the faithful — runs deep in evangelical Christian history. Evangelicalism emerged from the periodic mass revivals that have burned across America for 300 years. While defining this version of Christianity is notoriously difficult, it involves (at least) a personal decision to accept God’s grace through faith in Christ and a commitment to live — haltingly, imperfectly — according to his example.

 

In the 19th century, evangelicals (particularly of the Northern variety) took leadership in abolitionism and other movements of social reform. But as a modernism based on secular scientific and cultural assumptions took control of institution after institution, evangelicals often found themselves dismissed as anti-intellectual rubes.

The trend culminated at the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, in which evolution and H.L. Mencken were pitted against creation and William Jennings Bryan (whom Mencken called “a tin pot pope in the Coca-Cola belt and a brother to the forlorn pastors who belabor half-wits in galvanized iron tabernacles behind the railroad yards”). Never mind that Mencken was racist, anti-Semitic and an advocate of eugenics and that Bryan was the compassionate progenitor of the New Deal. Fundamentalists (a designation adopted by many evangelicals) lost the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, even in their own minds.

After a period of political dormancy — which included discrediting slumber during the civil rights movement — evangelicals returned to defend Christian schools against regulation during the Carter administration. To defend against Supreme Court decisions that put tight limits on school prayer and removed state limits on abortion. To defend against regulatory assaults on religious institutions. Nathan Glazer once termed this a “defensive offensive” — a kind of aggrieved reaction to the perceived aggressions of modernity.

Those who might be understandably confused by the current state of evangelicalism should understand a few things:

First, evangelicals don’t have a body of social teaching equivalent, say, to Catholic social doctrine. Catholics are taught, in essence, that if you want to call yourself pro-life on abortion, you also have to support greater access to health care and oppose the dehumanization of migrants. And vice versa. There is a doctrinal whole that requires a broad and consistent view of social justice. Evangelicals have nothing of the sort. Their agenda often seems indistinguishable from the political movement that currently defends and deploys them, be it Reaganism or Trumpism.

Second, evangelicalism is racially and ethnically homogeneous, which leaves certain views and assumptions unchallenged. The American Catholic Church, in contrast, is one-third Hispanic, which changes the church’s perception of immigrants and their struggles. (Successful evangelical churches in urban areas are now experiencing the same diversity and broadening their social concern.)

Third, without really knowing it, Trump has presented a secular version of evangelical eschatology. When the candidate talked of an America on the brink of destruction, which could be saved only by returning to the certainties of the past, it perfectly fit the evangelical narrative of moral and national decline. Trump speaks the language of decadence and renewal (while exemplifying just one of them).

 

In the Trump era, evangelicals have gotten a conservative Supreme Court justice for their pains — which is significant. And they have gotten a leader who shows contempt for those who hold them in contempt — which is emotionally satisfying.

The cost? Evangelicals have become loyal to a leader of shockingly low character. They have associated their faith with exclusion and bias. They have become another Washington interest group, striving for advantage rather than seeking the common good. And a movement that should be known for grace is now known for its seething resentments.

PROVIDENCE COLLEGE! PHONE HOME!

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Like ET the extra terrestrial, Providence College has demonstrated that they are lost. They have marginalized and now seen a world class scholar and teacher leave. You can read about the story surrounding Anthony Esolen online. I will stick with Professor Esolen’s recent book, Out of the Ashes.

Esolen writes with style, insight, and a jovial spirit. His book has a masterful use of history, literature, and contemporary events. The reader will see in bright colors why to quote Andrew Lytle, “Modern man is momentary man.” But Esolen does not just want to curse the darkness. He provides insight into how things can be improved. He is a realist, but since he’s a Christian, he’s not cynical.

One of the things that comes through loud and clear is that a great education is worth fighting for. Among other things, it allows you to better appreciate the world God has created.

The author is well educated (Princeton summa cum laude; PhD in classics), but he is far from a snob. His own blue-collar upbringing coupled with his love of family is endearing as it is worth reading about.

FATHOMLESS IGNORANCE AND LIMITLESS GULLIBILITY

George Will on President Trump

“…the problem isn’t that he does not know this or that, or that he does not know that he does not know this or that. Rather, the dangerous thing is that he does not know what it is to know something.

His fathomless lack of interest in America’s path to the present and his limitless gullibility leave him susceptible to being blown about by gusts of factoids that cling like lint to a disorderly mind.”

The rest is here:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-has-a-dangerous-disability/2017/05/03/56ca6118-2f6b-11e7-9534-00e4656c22aa_story.html?nid&utm_term=.5699a15e49f2

HT: John Fea

 

WOODROW WILSON: AMBITIOUS ASPIRATIONS AND PROBLEMATIC POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY

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Though it is a little over 200 pages Barry Hankins has packed quite a bit into this little/big book.

There is much to learn from this fine book, but I will limit myself to three things.

First, Hankins does a fine job of demonstrating the impossibility of having good Christian practice when it is shorn of Christian doctrine.  Wilson was a learned man, but terribly naive when it came to thinking there could be solid ethics without solid theology.

Second, there is fascinating background on Princeton and other educational matters.  Wilson lived during a pivotal point in American education.  The Johns Hopkins University, where Wilson did his PhD, was the first American school to adopt the German model of specialization.  It was a seismic change for the American educational landscape. 

Last, I love to read biographies where you learn some truly surprising things about the subject and the times he/she lived in.  Hankins does a nice job here.  Among other things, you will probably be surprised to find out how fun and light-hearted Wilson could be. 

If you are looking for a biography on Wilson that covers the full man, but isn’t unduly long, this is a terrific choice.

MY FELLOW AMERICANS…READ THIS BOOK!

 

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I am coming to this terrific book about five years after its publication, so no long review here.  I will say it is an extremely well done piece of work, both witty and wise, entertaining and educational.  You will learn a lot about Scripture and yourself by reading it!

American Christians are especially in dire need of reckoning with this fine book.

https://www.amazon.com/Misreading-Scripture-Western-Eyes-Understand/dp/0830837825/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=