Where is the Constitution in all of this?

So, it seems the Virginia House has voted to spend $17k to study the question of the State minting its own coins. Argument in favor of this move points out the reckless money-creation of the Federal Reserve and the inevitable collapse this leads to, as repeatedly demonstrated in history. Argument opposed to a Virginia coinage is less reasoned. The Washington Post quotes one opponent in the Virginia House who dismissed the proposal as "a descent into la-la land," whatever that is supposed to mean. The Post also quotes remarks of an economics professor, who finds the proposal "modest."

But there is another angle to the whole question that I do not see anyone arguing. There really is no need to "study" the proposal, for the matter already has been definitively settled in the Constitution of the United States of America. Article I, Section 10 states in no uncertain terms that "No State shall . . . coin money." What further need is there to "study" or debate the question? I do not read of any member of the Virginia House opposing the measure on grounds of Article I, Section 10. I do not read of any economics professor cautioning that the whole idea runs directly counter to Article I, Section 10. I do not read of President Obama, the Chief Executive to whom the task would fall, issuing to Virginia a warning that her contemplated course of insurrection will not go without consequences.

The Federal Reserve System already is blatantly unconstitutional, being directly counter to Article I, Section 8. In self-defense Virginia contemplates another equally blatant violation of the Constitution. What more demonstration do we need of the attitude of our rulers toward the Constitution? To be sure, our rulers continue to give solemn lip-service to the Constitution. They continue to swear to uphold and defend the Constitution upon entering office. The Supreme Court continues to nit-pick over what is "constitutional" and what is not. However, the question of Virginia coinage provides the clearest possible case of constitutional language – no State shall coin money. It is quite obvious that in spite of all the noble lip-service, our rulers and judges do not respect the Constitution as an authority. In practical reality the Union already is dissolved. We are not the United States of America any more. It is more socially convenient for us to go on believing we are than it is for them to openly declare that we are not.


The Economy

I argue that the phrase "the economy" is a meaningless abstraction. Very few would agree with me, and most would dismiss my assertion as semantics or mere quibbling about words. However, I firmly believe it is neither. The term "economy" is as old as the ancient Greek term oikonomos, from which it derives. In the original it meant "household management" (oikos - house, household -- nomos - law, rule, management) The concept legitimately may be enlarged to encompass what we now know as "economics" - the acquisition of raw materials, combined with design, labor and management, for the production and distribution of goods and services. The dynamics of economics extend well beyond the limits of a single household. Even in the New Testament (Romans 16:23) Erastus was called the "city treasurer" (oikonomos). However, there is a limit to the scope of the concept. The term "economics" meaningfully applies to an integral system. There are geographic limits beyond which systematic integrity cannot be maintained. There are limits of scale beyond which systematic integrity cannot be maintained. It simply is not possible to integrate an entire Continent into a single economic system. It long has been known in theory that this was not possible. The Soviet Union demonstrated in practice that this is not possible. Therefore, I cannot imagine what the phrase "the economy" is supposed to refer to. Clearly, Soviet-style Leftists, such as those in charge in Washington, intend by the phrase some fantasy of a Continent-wide system of economics. The best counter to Leftism is to challenge the very idea of "the economy," to declare that a Continent-wide system of economics is not possible and that it is evil even to attempt to construct one. But this is not the challenge brought by the Right. By their own use of the phrase "the economy," the Right demonstrates their own devotion to the same goal as the Left. They both seek a Continent-wide system of economics, and only disagree on how this best is done. The Left / Right debate is focused upon whose policies are good for "the economy" or bad for "the economy." I guess it falls to the naïve such as me to blurt out: There is no such thing as "the economy." So long as the debate is focused upon this abstraction, and all sides are devoted to this fantasy, the real world is left to crumble. Nothing good can come about in reality by any efforts that are motivated by and devoted to fantasy.

Reformation Day 2008

Below is the text of an address I delivered to a small family gathering on Reformation Day, October 31, 2008. It is titled, "The Reformation of Statecraft."

Reformation day this year comes just four days before a national, presidential election. It is quite a fitting occasion to consider the impact of the Reformation on the theory and practice of Statecraft. By Statecraft I mean the organization and management of the political or civil State. Let us start at the beginning and follow the development of political ideas from Ancient times forward.

In the most Ancient times there were two basic modes of political organization. In the first case we have the example of Ancient Israel. Religious authority was vested in a Priesthood. Political authority was vested in a multi-tiered structure of “leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens” (Dt. 1:15). Thus, political authority and religious authority were separate and parallel. That is, neither one was ultimate over the other. The Prophet spoke the Word of God to both the Priest and the King, demonstrating that God Himself is the ultimate authority and that human bureaucracies of authority are parallel in their subordination to God’s Word. This was a great social, political and religious truth. God Himself rules over everything; there is no authority in human life that rules over everything. All types of human authority must bow equally to the ultimate authority of God. In history the Ancient Hebrews had only sporadic and brief episodes of actual practice of the ideal. Much of the time they forgot God and were enticed away into the other kind of Ancient politics.

The other sort of political organization in the most Ancient times was absolute dictatorship or oligarchy, such as in Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. In these cases there was no separation or subordination of authority. The ruling person or cadre assumed all authority. Prophet, Priest and King was a single man. Religious authority and Political authority were identical. Thus, the Babylonian sort of ruler presented himself to his populace as a kind of incarnation of god, because he claimed the authority of god within himself. Though Ancient pagans worshipped the sun, the moon, Jupiter, and so on, still the being and will of such gods was indistinguishable from the being and will of the ruling oligarchy, who declared the will of the gods to the masses. Ancient dictators commanded the worship of their people. For example, in the Book of Daniel Nebuchadnezzar set up a golden idol and demanded the people worship it. When the three Hebrews defied him, he warned them saying, “what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” (Dan. 3:15)

About 500 years before the birth of Christ a new outlook emerged in the Grecian Isles. Thinkers made the bold suggestion that there was nothing inherent in the Priest or King that was not also inherent in the common man. Their conviction was that people did not have to listen to some kind of mystical authority, but any man could think for himself and discern physical, spiritual, and moral reality. One of these thinkers, Protagoras, phrased this conviction in a concise expression that is familiar to many hearers to this day: “Man is the measure of all things.” The idea was that Man - not a particular man, but generic Man, any man - could determine for himself the nature of reality and the course of his life. This conviction launched Ancient Greek philosophy and produced a great variety of insights into all kinds of abstract questions. But it was not at all clear how the Protagorean formula could take shape as social or political order. If everyone determines truth and life for himself, then there is no practical means of settling conflicts. At the height of Ancient Greek philosophy both Plato and Aristotle dealt with this practical difficulty. Determination of truth, they concluded, really cannot be left to generic Man. The pronouncements of an obvious moron cannot be placed on a par with those of a genius. Plato proposed that everything ought to be governed by “philosopher-kings.” Aristotle laid out the reasoning most clearly. He suggested that “wisdom” really is the measure of all things, and that man is the measure only insofar as he has wisdom.

Now this was starting to sound like the old Babylonian dictator all over again: an elite cadre of “wise” men rule everything. What about the noble quest of the individual? The Greeks could not scrap the vision of Protagoras altogether. They ended up wanting to go two ways at once. On the one hand they wanted to hold on to the ideal of generic man - any man - thinking for himself. On the other hand they could not deny that the thoughts of a wise man are weightier than the thoughts of a fool. Trying to organize both of these convictions into one coherent political system, Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations experimented with various types of democracies or republics. However, all of their attempts were grounded in their uncompromising humanism, which insisted that authority can rise no higher than some word of human origin. So, they never could produce a true social order of parallel human authorities mutually subordinated to the ultimate authority of God. If men do not bow before God as the only ruler of everything, then there is no way to escape the tension of either everyone serves an absolute dictator or else everyone does what is right in his own eyes. The humanistic outlook therefore is doomed to cyclical episodes of dictatorship and anarchy.

The Western world was in the grip of the absolute dictatorship of Caesar at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. Caesar claimed all religious and political authority in himself. In typical fashion he also claimed the worship of the populace. Acknowledging no God above himself, to whom he must bow, he effectively presented himself as yet another pretended incarnation of the divine. Thus, Jesus Christ represented the most direct and comprehensive challenge to Caesar that is possible to imagine. For Jesus truly was the incarnation of God, and truly combined in Himself alone the ultimate authority of Prophet, Priest, and King. There was not room enough in the world for both of them, for only one can be God incarnate, the ultimate authority for all aspects of life. The apostate Jews of the first century had a Romish idea of authority. Therefore, the person and ministry of Jesus Christ was a challenge to them as well. Playing the system, their case to their Roman overlords for the crucifixion of Jesus was to emphasize the challenge He presented to the rule of Caesar. This is most clearly laid out in the Gospel of John 19:12-15: “…the Jews cried out saying, ‘If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.’ When Pilate therefore heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat…and he said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ They therefore cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’” The earliest creedal formula among Christians was the simple affirmation: “Jesus is Lord.” Amid all of the richness of meaning embodied in this simple statement is the definite implication: Caesar is not Lord. The first century Christians were persecuted and killed by the Romans not because of some kind of shallow prejudice, but for treason. Their confession was a bold and direct challenge to the authority of Caesar.

The humanist pendulum arced over to the other side, and through a series of events during the early to mid 5th Century AD the empire of Rome fell into the chaos of revolution. About this same time Augustine made political application of the Christian idea of Law and authority. In his treatise, The City of God, he contrasts the grandeur of Christian Doctrine and application with Greek philosophy and the disintegration of Rome. He clearly expounded the Law of God as an expression of the eternal Will of God (Bk. X, ch. 7). He declared that God Himself is “the foundation of all justice,” (Bk. I, ch. 21) and asserted that, “true justice has no existence save in that republic whose founder and ruler is Christ.” (Bk. II, ch. 21) The Council of Chalcedon met in 451 AD and pronounced on a doctrinal controversy at that time concerning the incarnation of Christ. The Ancient Church Councils did not invent new ideas. They declared the truth of what the Church always believed as focused upon particular errors of their time. The Church at the time of Chalcedon was heavily influenced by Greek ideas. Recall that the Greek outlook was saddled with the tension between Protagoras and Aristotle - that on the one hand everyone declares what is right in his own eyes, and on the other hand only the wise can be trusted to discern what is right. The Greek outlook expected that a spark of divinity somehow resided in human life, but was stuck in the tension of the diversity of thinking individuals vs. the unity of a kingdom under an absolute ruler. Christians were sure that Christ embodied the spark of divinity in human life, but argued in a Greek-like fashion over how this was done. Some said that Christ really was a man who only seemed to be God. Others said that He really was God who only seemed to be man. Still others said that Christ was a man who acquired a Divine Nature that blended with his human nature. At Chalcedon it was clarified that in Christ there was united a human nature and a Divine nature, without confusion and without mingling. Rushdoony has pointed out how this Creed expounded the doctrinal underpinnings of Augustine’s political ideas. The Creator is distinct from the creature, and remains distinct, without the mingling of natures, even in the Person of Christ, the incarnation of God. This concept forms the basis for political authority that does not pretend to embody divine authority, but bows in subordination to divine authority.

Following the collapse of the Roman empire a feudal system emerged in Europe that was shaped to some degree by the Christian influence. Instead of all roads leading to Rome, the seat of dictatorship, Europe consisted of numerous decentralized domains. In the feudal domains of the Middle Ages we see once again a social structure that approached the biblical ideal of the leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. The reign of Charlemagne furthered this structure, which is a principal contrast between Charlemagne and Caesar. However, the Christian influence in this era was much less than perfect, as the Church too quickly abandoned consistent application of the Chalcedonian idea and reverted once again to a Greek outlook, which sought to embody Divine authority in human institutions. Whereas, under Caesar the State ruled over the Church, now in the Middle Ages it was the Church that ruled over the State. The rulers of the Church developed a kind of hierarchy of authority: the Church needs to listen to God, and the world needs to listen to the Church. It was Pope Leo, ruler of the Church, who crowned Charlemagne to be king. Thus, there emerged the Roman idea that the Church is a co-authority with God - that the Church is God’s means and agent on earth. As Van Til has pointed out, effectively the Roman idea is that the Church is the continuation of the incarnation because the Church was thought to embody the authority of God. In this context the idea of a Christian State was the State that fulfilled the will of the Church. This was the political idea that was prevalent at the time of the Reformation.

The Reformation - launched by the actions of Martin Luther on this date 491 years ago - chiefly concerned controversies of Church polity and doctrine. In order to address these concerns, Luther, Calvin and others laid a firm foundation in the idea of the supremacy of the Bible alone as the Word, Law and authority of God. In his Institutes, Bk. IV, Ch. X, § 7, Calvin cites James 4:12, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy…”, and Isaiah 33:22, “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; He will save us,” and comments that, “Both passages show that the power of life and death is his who has jurisdiction over the soul. Indeed, James clearly declares this. Further, no man can take this to himself. We ought, therefore, to acknowledge God as sole ruler of souls, with whom alone is the power to save and to destroy, as those words of Isaiah declare that he is at once ruler and judge and lawgiver and savior…it is unlawful to transfer to man what God reserves for himself.” The Reformation restored the full standard of Chalcedon: there is no mingling of the Divine and human natures. This formed the bedrock concept of the Creator / creature distinction. God, as Creator, is free. The Roman idea was that God responds to reality; the Reformed idea was that God determines reality. He is free to determine reality to be whatever He should will. The Roman idea was that God says what He does because reality is what it is; the Reformed idea is that reality is what it is because God says what He does. Therefore God’s authority is absolute over all of reality, and human authority must at all points be in subordination to God.

Beyond various Church controversies, such as indulgences and justification, the Reformed idea of God’s Law was effective also in leading to the reformation of social and political order. Since Divine Nature does not blend with human nature, therefore kings are equally subject to the Law of God as are peasants. This conviction acquired great cultural force and sparked social and intellectual movements across Europe. Reaction was rather visceral at first, such as the massacre of French Huguenots in 1572. But with the persistence of the Reformational movement, political argument grew more sophisticated. Samuel Rutherford’s treatise, Lex Rex - the Law is King - eloquently protested the notion of the “Divine right of Kings.” Persistent also was persecution of protestants, which was ongoing in England until the so-called “Glorious Revolution” of 1688. Emigrations that occurred as a direct result of these persecutions lead to the formation of the United States of America. The government of this land was constituted squarely upon the Reformational conviction that God Himself, via His Law, is the ruler of everything, and not the Church or the King.

The Reformed idea of Lex Rex saw further development in the 19th Century in Abraham Kuyper’s concept of “Sphere Sovereignty.” This concept was further developed in the 20th Century by Herman Dooyeweerd. Simply put, the concept of Sphere Sovereignty posits that human life may be divided into theoretical aspects such as individual, family, church, state, school, economy or trade, and the like. The idea is that these various aspects of life may be thought of as spheres, within which an order of authority operates independently of the other spheres. The Church cannot dictate policies of home life for every family; a man cannot rule parentally over everyone under his employ; the State cannot decree what shall and shall not be spoken from the pulpit, and so on. Thus, it is said that each order of authority is sovereign within its own sphere. A common misunderstanding of Sphere Sovereignty is to suppose that the various spheres are to be arranged somehow concentrically. This is a terrible mistake. The spheres of life are not by any means concentric, but are perfectly parallel in their mutual subordination to the Law of God. To attempt ordering the spheres concentrically is to deny the whole idea of Sphere Sovereignty. The whole idea is that there is no aspect of human life that rules everything. There is no sphere of human authority that rightly may rule over the others. God alone rules over everything by His Word and His Law. Each sphere of human authority is sovereign with respect to the others, and all are to be mutually subordinated to the over-arching and ultimately sovereign rule of God.

The general cultural mood of America today is a retreat from the Reformation and reversion to the Greek ideas. Instead of separate spheres of life equally bowing before the Law of God, we see the old Greek and Roman pretense to embody a god-like power in a ruling cadre. A clear example of this is presented on a recent cover of Time Magazine (October 6, 2008). A caption reads, “Who Can Rescue The Economy?” and below is a type of ballot listing John McCain, Barack Obama, and “None of the above.” Next to each name is included a photo of the man. Next to “None of the above” appears a thumbnail of Edvard Munch’s famous painting titled “The Scream.” The clear implication is that if neither McCain nor Obama can rescue “the economy,” then no rescue is possible. Under an essentially Greek idea of life, the political sphere enlarges to control everything. Time Magazine is confident that its readership will simply assume along with them that there must be a political answer to an economic problem, or else there is no answer. Now, the God of all creation has assured us that it is He Himself who gives us power to make wealth (Dt. 8:18). In Deuteronomy chapter 28 Moses explained at great length to the people of Israel that their prosperity depended directly upon their faithfulness to God and to His Law. To suggest that “the economy” is hopeless unless some man should be found with the power to save it is nothing less than idolatry. Granted, this magazine cover does not represent these men as personally claiming god-like powers, but represents others attributing god-like powers to them. In that case, what would be the proper response of a truly godly man? The New Testament furnishes us with examples of both Herod and Paul being falsely esteemed as gods. Their starkly contrasting responses provide us guidance in how to evaluate the magazine cover.

In Acts 12:21-23 we read of Herod: “And on an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them. And the people kept crying out, ‘The voice of a god and not of a man!’ And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.” In contrast to this let us consider Paul in Acts 14:9-15: “This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze upon him, and had seen that he had faith to be made well, said with a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’ And he leaped up and began to walk. And when the multitudes saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have become like men and have come down to us.’ And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. And the priests of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out and saying, ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you in order that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them.”

In our day the same idolatry is at work that we see in these accounts in the book of Acts. America has turned away from God, and in turning away from God there is nowhere to turn except to idols. The idolatry of our day is not so concrete as in Ancient times. We do not have political rulers overtly claiming to be the incarnation of God, nor do we have slavish populations offering sacrifices of bulls and goats to them. No, in our day idolatry is much more civilized and sophisticated. But it is idolatry all the same. This cover of Time Magazine is clear idolatry in that it suggests that a man with god-like power will “rescue the economy,” or else it will not be rescued. It presents the modern, sophisticated version of the people crying out, “the gods have become like men and have come down to us!” By implication this cover denies God by looking only to our own hand for the power to make wealth, and staking prosperity on ourselves or on the elite who will save us. Have McCain and Obama responded to this adulation in a way that is more like Herod or more like Paul? Where is the tearing of robes?

Intolerable Intolerance

When it comes to intolerance, our world today is quite different from the world of fifty years ago, which can be illustrated in the two dramatic examples of abortion and homosexuality. In that day abortion was illegal in most states; today every large city from coast to coast has facilities where abortions are performed on demand. Fifty years ago homosexuals led secret lives; today they parade pridefully in the streets. How have these changes occurred?

It will not do to say simply that our generation is more tolerant than the prior generation. In some ways our generation is much less tolerant. For example, fifty years ago many high schools had marksmanship classes and teams. It was not uncommon for students to bring firearms to school. Even in schools that had no shooting sports, it was common for boys to carry pocket knives. Now, any child caught with a pocket knife is subject to expulsion. It is considered to be a matter of pride and responsibility that every school district today, and most communities, strictly enforce a “zero tolerance” polity against weapons and drugs. So, it is not a question of whether our generation is more or less tolerant than before. It is, instead, a matter of being differently tolerant. The question persists: What makes the difference? The answer lies in the secularization of American society and culture.

It cannot be maintained that our Founding Fathers self-consciously intended to form a Christian theocracy. However, it is indisputable that Christianity was the major influence in creating the cultural and intellectual milieu in which our country was birthed. It equally is certain that in our day this influence has waned considerably. The powerful influence of Christianity in American culture fifty years ago may be seen in the fact that abortionists and homosexuals operated secretly even though no one was staging protests or publishing books and articles opposing them. “The wicked flee when no one is pursuing.” (Pr. 28:1) Conversely, the loss of Christian influence today is shown in the fact that abortion and homosexuality are pursued openly and pridefully despite the highly visible protests of Christians. Through the middle of the 20th Century, the shame and secrecy of abortion and homosexuality were not a response to overt Christian protests, but were the natural defenses of the culturally aberrant. In our day, abortion and homosexuality are mainstream, and the highly visible protests of Christians constitute a push to reassert a lost influence.

The differently tolerant cultural mood of our day has not come about by a simple loosening of Christianity’s grip. The decline of one influence comes about only upon the rise of another. One of the problems of the “tolerance” debate is that discussion tends to concern only individuals. The individual is urged to keep his convictions to himself and not to bother at all with the fact that other individuals hold contrary convictions. The purported ideal of such an approach is a universal and implicit tolerance – the utter forsaking of all intolerance. However, there is much more to the matter than can be explained in terms of individuals alone. In addition to individuals, there also is the reality of a culture that is greater than the sum of the individuals who populate it. That is how we are able to speak of Christianity or even “secularism” – things which cannot be embodied in the words or the works of any individual. While an individual may make a pretense to complete neutrality and implicit tolerance, this never could become a cultural reality. Should a universal tolerance actually come about within a given culture, then soon it would be conquered and supplanted, for in that case it would be utterly powerless against the emergance of a new intolerance.

The point to grasp here is that one sort of intolerance may be combatted only by a rival intolerance. There is no option to try to get everyone to stop drawing lines. Voices today that urge Christians to stop drawing lines cannot appeal to any Pollyanna platitude concerning the erasing of lines altogether. Cultural lines may be erased only by a design to redraw them elsewhere. The push nowadays is finally to wrest all line-drawing influence away from Christianity and to award it to secularism instead. The cultural force of opposition to abortion and homosexuality fifty years ago pushed those who practiced such things into a closet. But the open practice of abortion and homosexuality in our day has not yet achieved such cultural force as likewise to silence the Christian influence. Though no longer in a position of cultural leadership, the Christian influence still speaks plainly of its intolerance of abortion and homosexuality. Cries to silence this intolerance ostensibly champion the ideal of universal and implicit tolerance. However, such cries effectively amount to a competing intolerance. Those today who are angered by the shame and silence forced upon abortionists and homosexuals fifty years ago nevertheless would impose the same shame and silence upon the Christian influence today. Again, one sort of intolerance may be opposed only by a rival intolerance.

What is the future of the Christian influence in American culture? The adaptation of Christian ministry amid cultural upheaval finds expression in the ideal of the Apostle Paul: “I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.” (I Corinthians 9:22) This ideal does not entail any compromise of the Christian message, otherwise none would be saved. Becoming all things to all men means knowing how to speak to every person in every situation. Fifty years ago it meant knowing how to speak to the shamed and silent homosexual. Today it means knowing how to speak to the activist homosexual, who would wish to shame and silence Christians. It means diligently fulfilling the role of shepherd during times of cultural leadership. It means being wise to discern when cultural leadership is lost, and then to adopt the posture of the prophet. Being all things to all men means, in short, faithfully juxtaposing Christian intolerance against all rival intolerances.


American Rifles

The following interesting item was printed in the Cooperstown, New York newspaper titled “The Watch-Tower,” August 10, 1815. Those were the good-old-days!

American Rifles

It is a fact creditable to our manufactures, that American rifles have obtained a preference among British officers, to those manufactured in Europe. Several have been purchased in this city, of Albany manufacture, by officers returning to Canada, and orders have been sent down for others. It is not unlikely that our rifles owe in part their celebrity to the dreadful destruction which they caused in the British ranks during the late war; and that the object may be to take them to England as matters of curiosity. If so, it may be found necessary, in order to prove their destructive qualities, to take along also a few American riflemen, for we are persuaded our rifles owed their efficiency, in a great measure, to the men who wielded them. The men were freemen as well as marksmen. It may be difficult to find such in Europe.


Reformation Day, 2007

Deuteronomy 6:4-7, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.”

At our annual Reformation Day celebration I heard a minor commotion in the kitchen. My granddaughter, 11, had surveyed the preparations, made some basic inquiries concerning the menu, and then asked, “Why is all the food and drink German?” Her uncle replied, matter-of-factly, “Because Martin Luther was German.” This answer, however, did not satisfy, but only piqued her curiosity. “How could he be German? I thought he was African!” she protested. It was at that point that the minor commotion broke out. “You had better go see your Pappy!” she was told quite spiritedly. That was when I got involved in the conversation. Dutifully, she found me in another room, and related the events to that point, as described above.

Her naïve the-emperor-has-no-clothes-like remark is very instructive in a number of ways. First, it shows that an eleven-year-old child has enough awareness of the world to expect Germans to be white. (She would be utterly dismayed to learn of current population trends in Germany - and, indeed, in all of Europe - today). Second, it shows that “political correctness” has done its job perhaps too well. The bleeding-heart liberal types who insist that blacks must be referred to as “African American” probably didn’t expect young children to come to think of them simply as “African.” Third, it shows that the influence of popular culture and public “education” is very, very powerful. My granddaughter is not a total product of the popular influences. Our recent Reformation Day observance was not the first time we ever had done such a thing. Of course, she had heard of Martin Luther, the 16th Century German, before. But the popular influences had succeeded in crowding out her budding and struggling awareness, and in substituting the approved icons of the age.

“Martin Luther was a man who lived many, many years ago,” I told her.

“Oh,” she assented with genuinely widening eyes as I continued my remarks.

“He was very courageous and very well known, and that is why Martin Luther King’s parents wanted to name him after Martin Luther.”

“Actually,” one of her aunts broke in, “his parents did not name him that. They originally named him Michael. But one day his father simply decided to begin calling himself Martin Luther King, and made it known that his son was to be called Martin Luther King, Jr.”

“Oh, yes, of course.” I remembered.

“Let’s get the facts straight.” My daughter exhorted.

My granddaughter was not terribly concerned with these technicalities, and eagerly wished to resume the main gist of the conversation. “What did he do to become so famous?” She asked.

“Well,” I went on, “the church during that time had a lot of problems. Many things were not at all right. Martin Luther saw these problems and was very upset about it all. He knew what needed to be changed and knew just what should be done about it. Finally, on October 31, 1517 - nearly 500 years ago - he went up to the big, wooden door of the Castle at Wittenberg, and nailed to it some papers he had written to try to get some things changed.”

“Oooh,” she almost whispered.

Some have thought the nailing of documents is apocryphal, and others maintain that there is adequate historical support for such an occurrence. Even if an actual occurrence, it doubtless was not quite the obstinate gesture such an act would be if done today, for in historical context it was but a customary manner of posting documents for popular review. However, the obstinance that we read into such an act was indeed present in Luther’s overall mood and determination, though perhaps not indicated via hammer and nails.

“His doing that started a big movement that lasted a long time. A lot of people didn’t want anything to change in the church. But Martin Luther, along with other courageous men, like John Calvin, didn’t want to change things just to be changing them. They wanted wrong things in the church to be changed into right things. It is because of what they did all those years ago that we have churches like ours today.” (The poor dear would be mortified to realize that churches that are heirs of the Reformation today stand more in need of reform than the Roman Church of Luther’s day.)

She sat quietly for a few moments, quite clearly mulling things over. At last, the thoughts had moved along through her mind to another juncture at which it appeared dialog would be helpful.
“Pappy?” She began, as the interval had made it necessary for her once again to plea for my attention.


“There’s this kid in my school, and he’s pretty smart, and he says he doesn’t believe in God because there is pain and suffering.”

Ah, yes. The unbeliever’s dearest ally: the so-called Problem of Evil, the supposed Achilles’ Heel of Christianity. In all my discussions with college-educated unbelievers, every time, without fail, resort quickly was had to the comfortable subterfuge of the Problem of Evil. Now, here is an eleven-year-old girl reporting that “a kid in her school” is pulling this rabbit out of his hat. My, my, how advanced and sophisticated the schools are getting these days!

“Go back and tell him that pain and suffering does not mean that God isn’t there, but only means that people are sinners.” I challenged her.

She pursed her lips and knit her brow, as though trying to think what a fellow like him would say next. “Hummph” was all she could manage. Then, it was not long before she had another of his gems to share.

“He says that if God exists, why doesn’t he talk to us?”

“Go back and tell him that He did talk to us.”

“Oh, yeah!” She assented as the lights came on. She sat in the glow for several minutes. All around us was a bustle of various other activities and conversations. There was so much I would have liked to have told her, but in my years of relating to children I have learned that my instinct is to try to tell too much. I find nowadays that I get further if I answer the questions, and maybe elaborate a little, and then hang back and wait for more questions. It appeared for the moment as though our conversation had concluded, and we began to become absorbed into the general atmosphere of the gathering. But before long there was again that plaintive tap upon my arm and the urgent call of “Pappy?”

“Yes?” I turned my attention to her.

“Where is heaven?”

Now it was I with pursed lips and knit brow. It was not so much that I didn’t know what to say - I just wasn’t quite sure how to say it to an eleven-year-old child.

“Well, you can’t really say where it is.”

“Why not?”

“It’s not really a place like some place you can travel to….I mean, you couldn’t draw a line from here to there.”

“I don’t get it.” Her tone was more inquisitive than challenging.

“Well, the idea of where does not apply. You can’t say where it is in the same way that you can say where Germany is.”

“You mean it isn’t real?”

“No, no, I don’t mean that at all.”

“Then, if it is real, doesn’t it have to be somewhere?”

“Yes, but we talk about where something is that is in the world we live in, because once we know where it is, then we might be able to travel there. Even if it is something outside our world, like the moon or something, still we could draw a line between here and there and at least think about traveling there, even if we never could actually go. But heaven is not like that. It is not part of the same kind of reality that we live in. You can’t talk about where heaven is.”

She thought about this for quite some time. For a moment I had thought that she might have done with the conversation. However, it turned out that really she was deep in contemplation. At last she turned to me and said, quite simply, “What sentence can you make about heaven?” In other words, I told her that she cannot make the sentence that she began by wanting to make: a sentence that tells us where to find heaven. I was holding a pretty hard line, insisting that one cannot use the term where. I left no room at all for popular pabulum such as, heaven is in your heart, or in your dreams, or in the eyes of someone special. With all those avenues shut off, I was very pleased to see that she successfully perceived the position I left her in: if one cannot make a sentence concerning heaven that states where it may be found, then is there any positive sentence one can make?

“Heaven is a special place prepared by God for the unseen hosts of angels, cherubim, and seraphim, and will be the final home of those whom God was pleased to redeem in Christ.” I declared.

I think she appreciated somewhat the inspirational quality of this description, however, it seemed to be something less than satisfactory, as are all abstract concepts in the concrete minds of children.

“People usually think of heaven as up there somewhere,” she gestured toward the ceiling, “and….and…,” she hesitated, trying to come up with a suitable synonym, whereas she was under strict instructions not to say “hell,” and finally satisfied herself that I had caught her meaning as her hand bobbed, indicating the floor.

“Yes, well, we normally think of up as good and down as bad.”


“And,” her uncle chimed in, “light comes from above, but under the earth is only darkness.”

“But that doesn’t mean that heaven is up there somewhere,” I cautioned. “That’s just a handy way of trying to think about something that is not part of our world. The things that we think and say about life as we know it do not really tell us about something beyond our world, like heaven. We can’t discover it with a telescope or a microscope. We just have to listen to what God tells us about it in the Bible, and believe what He says.”

The adult conversation in the room seemed rather tame or subdued compared to my granddaughter’s energetic curiosity. Her fearlessness in blurting out the best understanding of “Martin Luther” that her naivety could muster, and then her persistence in following up with question after question to drive understanding deeper and deeper, was quite refreshing. I imagine that our brief time of conversation provided a small glimpse of the ideal that Moses exhorted Israel when he commanded them to speak of the things of God to their children “when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” Now our appetites for conversation seemed to be sated, and the rich aromas from the kitchen evoked in us appetites of a more natural sort. I mused upon our conversation as we distributed generous portions of sausages, sauerkraut, pretzels, and potatoes (and beer, for those of age) and enjoyed the special fellowship that only a shared meal can provide. Afterward we had a time of rousing song. I distributed song-sheets, found the pitch suitable to everyone’s range, and led the assembly in “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” My granddaughter followed the words intently as we sang. At the conclusion I got her attention and declared to her, “Now you know Martin Luther a little better: he wrote that hymn.”

“Really?!” She exclaimed with eyes widening in all sincerity and wonder.


Celtic Woman

The “Celtic Woman” concert is a marvelous celebration of Irish ethnicity. Premiering as a PBS Television special in March of 2005, it has gone on to become a live touring production. The program was conceived and arranged by Irish prodigy David Downes, who also conducts the concert performances. The audience is treated to breathtaking beauty of both sights and sounds. The featured women not only are wonderful to behold, but as well are truly gifted vocalists. They are accompanied by a chorus and a large orchestra of expert musicians, who perform with obvious passion. Included are traditional Irish favorites such as Isle of Inisfree, She Moved Thru the Fair, Danny Boy, Last Rose of Summer, as well as spiritual numbers such as Ave Maria and Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, and contemporary Irish hits such as Orinoco Flow, Harry’s Game, and May it Be. The program is engaging from its first chords and captivates the audience throughout. Perhaps it is the power of this engagement that makes the program’s weaknesses contrast so sharply with its overall beauty and grandeur. Included are three rather “sappy” numbers that clash so dramatically with the theme of “Celtic Woman” that one can only wonder how there came to be a decision to include them.

First of the three is “You Raise Me Up” (music by Rolf Lovland, lyrics by Brendan Graham). Lovland commissioned Graham to write the lyrics, and the song debuted in a recording by Lovland’s “New Age” ensemble called Secret Garden. Since then it has acquired international popularity, being recorded by over a hundred different artists. It eloquently exhibits the most necessary prerequisite to wild, worldwide popularity, viz. a thoroughgoing ambiguity. The chorus runs as follows:

“You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up: To more than I can be.”

At no point in the song is the identity of “you” made clear. What is said of “you” is sufficiently nebulous that literally anyone can make literally anything of it he wishes. Indeed, many have done so. The Christian popular musical ensemble Selah determined that “you” is the God of the Bible and recorded this number as a Christian anthem. It went straight to No. 1 on Billboard’s chart of Christian music. But this same song began life as “New Age” and has extended its appeal in those circles. For example, consider this testimony:

“As I listened to the soothing ness of the focusing guide’s voice, the gentleness of the music and the subtle meaning of the lyrics, my body was brought to a place of contemplation and delight which I had not experienced in a long time. In the beginning of this experience I was, as the song suggested, actually ‘down’ and ‘my soul’ was ‘so weary’ because I was ‘walking on stormy seas.’ It seemed I couldn’t get myself out of this unexplainable rut. As I entered the silence in my body, a rich awareness came over me. I allowed the truth inside of me ‘sit awhile with me’ and this gave me an overwhelming feeling of relief and exhilaration. At the completion of the music-oriented focusing, I felt an inner sense of peace and contentment without the mind-boggling jumble of the brain.”

Being so widely hailed by Christians as a hymn to God, while at the same time being a New Age testament to “inner truth,” proves that at best this song is an “indistinct sound.” “So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.” (I Cor. 14:9) If we try to make “you” in this song to be God, then we attribute to Him an inappropriate humanity. If we try to make “you” to be some supportive or inspiring person, then we attribute to him an inappropriate divinity. If we try to make “you” to be the “energy of a universal force,” then we do both of the above.

What makes this incongruous in a “Celtic Woman” program is that the Celtic heritage is characterized by a sharp contrast. It is steeped in pagan roots, and then dramatically converted to Christianity. If this song were clearly pagan, it would have a place in this program as a nod to the past - an acknowledgement of that former state, up from which God has raised the Celtic people. If it were clearly Christian, then it also would have a place, like Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, as a glorious anthem to the Grace of God in so providentially redeeming a lost people. As it is, this song attempts to mingle divine and human elements. Such pretended mingling faithfully represents the spirit of the age, and so may harken to the decline of Irish culture. But it hardly represents the historic Celtic heritage.

The second “sappy” number in the Celtic Woman program is titled “Someday,” and is borrowed from a Disney soundtrack, the music of Alan Menken and lyrics of Stephen Schwartz. This song basically presents a Millennial vision that is divorced from the power and authority of the Millenial King, Jesus Christ. The hope is stated, in part:

“Someday, life will be fairer
Need will be rarer
And greed will not pay
Godspeed, this bright millenia
On it’s way, let it come someday”

The pursuit of Millennial bliss without the Millennial King not only is an exercise in futility, but also is treasonous. Listening to the futile optimism of this song, the Reformed Christian is prone to respond, “You might as well wish upon the moon.” And no sooner does the listener think this than the singer breaks forth with:

“ ‘Til then, on days when the sun
Is gone, we’ll hang on
If we wish upon the moon”

Perhaps this is supposed to resolve into the Celtic theme by way of an idea of pagan moon worship. But this cannot be, as the composers are both modern American Jews. More likely the moon is chosen as the object of hope for no more noble reason than that it rhymes with “soon,” as in the conclusion:

“Godspeed this bright millenia
Let it come
If we wish upon the moon
One day, someday....soon”

Such is the stuff of modern showbusiness. If the ultimate harmonious outcome of human history is pursued without recourse to the redemption of the sinner in Jesus Christ, then it hardly matters what object is substituted. The moon will do as well as the sun, or the “inner truth” of the human heart. Regardless, it all amounts to an exercise in denying the true condition of humanity and the whole of his surrounding universe as corrupted in sin, and denying the redemption of the sinner and the redemption of the whole cosmos in Jesus Christ. As such, this number is contrary to the theme of “Celtic Woman,” for it gives us no true glimpse into the paganism of the ancient Celtic past, nor does it present any true idea of the Christian redemption of a formerly pagan people. It is simply sappy, postmodern, irrational optimism. It is a sad thing to see the Irish embrace this kind of feel-good pabulum.

The sappiest and most incongruent of all numbers in the show is “One World,” a plea for the universal brotherhood of all mankind. They sing, in part:

So let your hearts be open
And reach out with all your love
There are no strangers now
They are our brothers now
And we are one

We’re all a part of one world
We all can share the same dream
And if you just reach out to me
Then you will find deep down inside
I'm just like you.

It is a most amazing thing to behold a chorus of lovely Irish women gush to the world in general, “I’m just like you.” What, indeed, is the point of working up an elaborate musical program showcasing the Celtic Woman if there is no appreciable difference between the Celtic woman and any other random people of the world? The whole pretext of the program and the basis of its appeal lies in the very real difference that exists between the Celts and other peoples. Were it not for this difference, there would be no inducement to conceive of such a program nor to do the hard work necessary to produce it. What is especially significant is the origins of this tune. It is not borrowed from the catalog of popular music, nor from the soundtrack of popular cinema. It is the original composition of the originator, musical director, and conductor of Celtic Woman, David Downes.

Now, why would ethnic Irishman Downes, working on a program ostensibly celebrating the ethnicity of the Celtic Woman, compose and include a number in which these women deny any difference between themselves and other peoples? It is impossible to discern another’s motives, but to the observer it comes across as an apology. Celtic women do exist and they are beautiful and talented. This is something wonderful to set before the world, but in so doing the truly modern Irishman must be careful not to imply that the Celtic woman is in any way superior to any other women of the world. The modern outlook must downplay the obvious differences, which the program is meant to display, as superficial over against the deeper reality of oneness. Though the whole reason for doing the show lies in ethnic distinction, Mr. Downes made sure that the final message of the show was equality. But, there is something terribly odd in this expression of equality. It is a cry emanating from the wrong side of the equation.

The mathematical equation has the “commutative” property. That is, the mathematical equation is true regardless of the order in which it is expressed. We can say 2 times 3 equals 6, and by the commutative property we therefore also can say 6 equals 2 times 3. One fully substitutes for the other in any subsequent expression. This is not so in the modern idea of social equality. It does not have the commutative property. For example, it is infinitely more popular to argue that Blacks are equal to Whites than it is to argue that Whites are equal to Blacks. If there were a program titled “African Woman,” we would expect to hear the chorus cry out to the world, “if you just reach out to me, then you will find deep down inside I'm just like you.” In this case the Celtic women would be among those begged to “reach out” and to admit the equality of the plaintiffs. Such would fit with the typical tenor of currently popular rhetoric concerning “equality.” Instead, we have the Celtic women begging the world to “reach out” to them and to grant equality in a way that rubs against the grain of the modern idea.

This is not how Celtic women came to be what they are. Instead, this procedure is the surest prescription for the demise of the Celtic heritage. For much of the 19th and 20th centuries Ireland suffered negative population growth as stagnant economic conditions prompted mass emigration at levels that outpaced births. At the close of the 20th century Ireland entered into economic boom conditions and required a massive influx of immigrants to fill positions. Immigration policies quickly were liberalized. Immigrants arrived from all over the world. The positions were filled, but also Ireland became for the first time in its history a “multicultural society.” Ireland now experiences the inevitable racial tensions and conflicts that result from diverse peoples being collected together into a single “society.” In further demonstration that social “equality” lacks the commutative property, the immigrants are not becoming “just like” the Irish, rather, the Irish are progressively losing - and in some cases even renouncing - their distinctiveness Irishness. The recordings of the Celtic Woman program may perhaps best serve as an archive of the beauty that once was Celtic, giving in these three sappy numbers a glimpse into how it began to fade away.