Monday, October 31, 2005

Sam Alito

The conservative blogosphere is elated and reinvigorated by the president's pick of Sam Alito for associate justice of the Supreme Court. Michelle Malkin has a summary of conservative opinions with lots of links from around the community.

Meanwhile, the Left is taking it bitterly, which is how they take pretty much everything Bush does. They see in the Alito pick the end of an era of liberal hegemony in the courts and the end of their ability to implement the liberal agenda via judicial fiat rather than through legislation. If the Left loses the Courts, and cannot regain the House or the Senate in 2006, their future is bleak indeed.

Democratic Senators have been a little more subdued in their response than have the Lefty bloggers, but their disappointment is manifest. For example Senator Schumer:

"It's sad that the president felt that he had to pick a nominee likely to divide America, instead of picking a nominee like Sandra Day O'Connor that had united America."

And here's Senator Reid:

"I am disappointed in this choice for several reasons. First, unlike previous nominations, this one was not the product of consultation with Senate Democrats. Last Friday, Senator Leahy and I wrote to President Bush urging him to work with us to find a consensus nominee. The President has rejected that approach.

"Second, this appointment ignores the value of diverse backgrounds and perspectives on the Supreme Court. The President has chosen a man to replace Sandra Day O'Connor, one of only two women on the Court. For the third time, he has declined to make history by nominating the first Hispanic to the Court. And he has chosen yet another federal appellate judge to join a court that already has eight justices with that narrow background. President Bush would leave the Supreme Court looking less like America and more like an old boys club."

No mention here by Senator Reid about qualifications, of course, only a lament that the President didn't let the minority pick his Justice for him and the threadbare complaint that Alito doesn't add a diversity of perspectives to the Court. The reasons for Senator Reid's dismay are equally reasons why the rest of us should take heart from this nomination. Even were we not encouraged by what we've read about Judge Alito elsewhere (See Michelle Malkin's site linked above), we'd have to think that anyone who so distresses Senator Reid and the fine folks at the Daily Kos must be good for America.

Understanding Our Moment

Gideon Strauss has an essay at Comment wherein he discerns four challenges facing contemporary Christianity. The four he identifies are those posed by contemporary liberalism, Islam, China, and the emergence of Christianity in the third world.

Here are some excerpts. First are his thoughts on the challenge posed by liberalism:

The most perplexing of these root challenges is also the most immediate to most of us: the challenge of modern liberalism. I am at turns amused and frustrated by my academic colleagues who continue to insist that we live in postmodern times. The suggestion that somehow the spiritual force of modernity has been exhausted and replaced by something altogether different simply does not ring true to what I experience in my own daily work nor to the cultural forces I see at work in the world.

Lest I be misunderstood, this is not a screed against constitutional democracy or a market economy, both of which I belief are blessings to humanity with rich potential for responsible cultural action. Instead, I am concerned about the spiritual power that animates both liberal democracies and capitalist economies. It is a spiritual power that seeks to combine unfettered individual liberty with the commodification and bureaucratic subjugation of all of nature - and that recognizes no law or power beyond or independent of nature.

I am astonished by the power of liberal capitalism to persuade even those whose deepest commitments should predispose them against the libertarian erosion of communal ties and the grasping extension of market logic beyond its proper economic sphere that there is no alternative. Living in a society guided by liberal capitalism is like being submerged in an acid ocean stretching to the horizon - there seems no possible escape, and the very flesh is being eaten off our bones.

Having seen the pragmatic power of liberal capitalism in action up close, in the shaping of the decision-making of marxist politicians in Africa and of evangelical social activists in North America, I am perplexed by the difficulty of figuring out how to live faithfully to the gospel, in every sphere of life, in the smothering embrace of a society that is radically and comprehensively guided by this sweetly destructive force. Given that there is no new found land remaining to which Christians can repair to establish a new city on a hill, how should we now live, in the very midst of this often so seemingly welcoming but yet so profoundly antagonistic social order?

On the Islamic challenge:

What is not at all clear is how Christians should respond to the struggle between modernity and Salafiyyah Islam for global hegemony. I have heard Christians argue that within the context of North America we are more closely cobelligerent with Muslims, against liberal modernity, because of our supposedly shared concern for religion finding a space within a secularist political order, and because of our supposedly shared concern for what is here often term a "social conservative" stance on issues like marriage and abortion. I have also heard Christians argue that within the context of what first Bernard Lewis and then Samuel Huntington has termed the "clash of civilizations," Christianity and liberal modernity are - as the religious expressions of "Western civilization" - closely allied against the global expansion of the Islamic ummah.

Concerning China:

The relationship of China as a geopolitical entity to Christianity as a religion has fascinating and troubling world historical potential. David Aikman, the author of Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power, suggests that China might in this century become substantially Christian, and explores (in an interview with National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez) some of the consequent options:

What would a non-Christian China be like if it became a superpower capable of rivaling the U.S.? Probably dangerous and unpredictable. A Christian China would be far more likely to view its role in the world as containing a global moral responsibility, an "Augustinian" national self-view, if you like.

China presents its own Christians with a cultural challenge very different from that presented by liberal modernity, but perhaps no less perplexing. How does one live within an established social and political order that is at once seemingly tolerant of and fundamentally antagonistic to one's most basic commitments and convictions. For Christians in North America, one additional question is how we relate to Chinese Christians as our co-religionists in a complex geopolitical situation, particularly given the high probability of serious international conflict between America and China in the twenty-first century, predicted by pundits like Robert Kaplan?

Finally, on third world Christianity:

While, from my Christian perspective, the growth of Christianity in Africa, Asia, and Latin America is an exciting historical development, this massive shift in religious adherence has as yet resulted in only limited positive social change.

The most obviously troubling problem in this regard is the devastating AIDS pandemic in Africa, which is almost entirely the result of personal sexual practices that are in every respect at odds with a Christian sexual ethic. In the long run, however - if we are to take as an example the slow emergence of Christian cultural influence in western Europe between, say, the deposition of Romulus Augustus as Roman emperor in AD 476 and the crowning of Charlemagne as Imperator Romanorum in AD 800 - it is entirely possible that Christianity will result in a rich cultural flowering in Africa, in every sphere of life.

Strauss offers much more in his article than has been excerpted here and much of what he says is very insightful. It would be good to read the whole thing.

Reformation Sunday

Yesterday was Reformation Sunday in the Lutheran Church and my thoughts turned this weekend to the endpoint the present trajectory of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) seems to be taking us toward. Ideological or theological designators like liberal and conservative often obscure nuance and require qualification, but they are also often useful. The ELCA seems to have fallen into the embrace of theological and ideological liberalism, and many conservatives are just beginning to wake up to the fact that the Church of their youth has been hijacked by a leadership that is moving steadily away from the traditional affirmations of the Faith.

The liberals (or progressives, as they fancy themselves) argue that the Church is called upon to do social ministry, and they are simply responding to that call by waging a decades-long campaign against sexism, racism and imperialism and contending on behalf of gay marriage, abortion rights, and the poor. What Christian, they ask, would or could oppose such causes?

The difficulty is this: There are two ways of looking at our social mandates and responsibilities. Conservatives hold that whatever policies we advocate must be rooted in, and governed by, Scripture. Liberals believe that our policies and support should be shaped by sociological consensus, and if contemporary theory conflicts with the Bible or the theological traditions of the Church then so much the worse for the Bible and tradition.

Thus the Lutheran Church, or at least that part of it represented by the ELCA, struggles against sexism by publishing a new worship book that minimizes references to the masculine in hymns, creeds, and liturgy, and by supporting expansive abortion rights even though all previous social statements of the Church, including the present one, condemn abortion.

It opposes racism by endorsing liberal Democratic approaches to welfare, affirmative action, and entitlement. It will surprise no one if we hear calls for racial reparations arise during future national assemblies.

It condemns imperialism by demanding that Israel tear down the wall that it has erected to protect itself from Palestinian murderers and that the U.S. turn over the global war on terror to the U.N. so that it can be treated as a police matter.

It is, finally, exceedingly sympathetic to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered agenda despite the fact that all sexual norms found in Scripture would have to be abandoned in order to accommodate it. Notwithstanding the Biblical proscription of same sex intimacy, large sectors of the Church, including the leadership, favor the ordination of practicing homosexuals and the blessing of same sex relationships.

This is the direction of the contemporary ELCA, and this is why a growing number of Lutherans are praying for another Reformation (See here, for example). We need, they insist, a Martin Luther for the 21st century to rescue a Church whose membership is in free-fall and whose leadership seems committed to running this once great institution off the cliff of cultural syncretism.