Monday, June 30, 2014

Freedom


Freedom.  It’s on our minds this time of year.  Most of us wax a bit nostalgic and valorize this great gift vouchsafed to us. A smaller number of folks will reflect on the promise of America’s experiment in democracy and mourn that we have defaulted on much of that promise (more and more, it seems, with each passing day).  Langston Hughes great poem “Let America Be America Again” is a landmark of this kind of reflection. 

Freedom.  It’s even tougher for many in the church.  How do we honor this most important day in our nation’s history without capitulating to those who want a rah-rah patriotic service on the Sunday nearest the 4th?  It seems unwise (and perhaps harmful to one’s job security) to ignore it.  But to turn that service into praise and worship session about America either.  That is, well, to be blunt, blasphemy.  What then can we do?

I’ve always practiced a minimalist 4th of July worship service and encouraged folks to attend civic functions where the patriotic observances happen.  The best I’ve come up with is to craft varied reflections on freedom each year usually suggesting that, what its origin and promise, the greatness of America has become attenuated due to a sadly reduced notion of freedom.  We have embraced the “freedom from” part of freedom, and inflated that to be the whole thing.  Freedom consists in being free from every constraint, hindrance, or blockage that keeps us from doing what we want to do.  And that is a magnificent thing!  Except when it becomes the whole thing!

Except when there’s no room for the second movement of freedom, “freedom for.”  Freedom to be committed to that purpose and people whose cause and well-being make life worth living.  Freedom to give oneself to something larger and more profound than what meaning and purpose we can cobble together on our own.

Then I transition to some kind of exposition of the biblical notion of freedom which clearly encompasses both movements.  Think of the Exodus.  Freedom from Pharaoh and slavery, on the one hand.  But the Exodus does not end till the people are bound in covenant to YHWH and he has taken up residence among the people in the Tabernacle.  And suggest that this biblical notion of freedom provides us a way to reflect on and understand the direction of our country.

This attenuated notion of freedom creeps into our churches, however.  A church sign near my home reads this week:  “The greatest freedom is freedom from sin.”  I responded on Facebook that, on the contrary, the greatest freedom is freedom for God. 

That’s at any rate the tack I try to take to deal with the 4th.  Hope it helps somebody out there.

On the Need for Creeds

http://nblo.gs/Y3XS8
An excellent post from Scot McKnight on a review of Carl Trueman's book, The Creedal Imperative.
___
The best part of this book, other than Trueman’s occasional zingers at church goofinesses and cultural nonsense, is his chapter on the usefulness of creeds. I found this chapter to be theologically helpful but also pastorally aware (he pastors). Here are his uses of creeds:

1. All churches have creeds and confessions (I'd say they all have "theologies" but not all have "creeds" in a specialized sense). Failure to acknowledge this can be disingenuous. (I agree with that.)


2. Confessions delimit the power of the church. (I don’t like the word "delimit" but I agree with his point.) They mean the church has to answer to something above it! That's a good thing. Too many think they are the first to find something.

3. They offer succinct and thorough summaries of the central elements of the faith. Good creeds do this, but here the Confessions are even more thorough.

4. Creeds and confessions allow for appropriate discrimination between members and office-bearers: that is, not everyone has to be the expert; but leaders ought to be theologically informed. I could tell stories…. yuck.

5. Creeds and confessions reflect the ministerial authority of the church … and, yes, this cuts against the grain of our anti-authoritarian culture, but it's hard to have leaders who don't lead, or pastors who aren't to some degree theologically sound and capable of leading, and elders who don't know their stuff. (It's not so hard perhaps as it is profoundly unwise.)


6. Creeds and confessions represent the maximal doctrinal competence the local church aspires to for its members.

7. I like this one: creeds and confessions relativize our modern importance and remind us we are part of a long history and Story!

8. Creeds and confessions help define one church in relation to another-- this is about information not schism.

9. Creeds and confessions are necessary for maintaining corporate unity.

I believe in a creedal imperative, and this book can help more and more of us to find a common conversation around our common creeds and confessions.

Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!


http://www.famouspoetsandpoems.com/poets/langston_hughes/poems/16944


Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Difference Between Fellow Travelers and Friends

 http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2010/07/difference-between-fellow-travelers-and-friends.html

 
marriage friends
 
As someone who had libertarianism poured into my morning milk as a child, I am in some ways still “in recovery.” However, I have lived a long time the American conservative movement, as it grew from obscurity into an intellectual movement, then into a national political triumph, and then as it squandered much of the intellectual capital in the political realm, at the same time as most of the conservative institutions have focused their energy primarily on politics. The breadth and depth of conservative thought has been simplified from a symphony to a one-note samba.
 
We need to have the differentiation of thought to recognize that there are different realms within which we live: the personal realm with family and friends; our community of faith; our professional realm; the economic realm; the local civic realm; and the political. At home and with our closest friends we want convictions to be at least harmonious with our own. We seek out a community of faith where we share one creed. In the economic realm, we encounter people of all kinds of convictions, but we can still do business with them, or choose not to. In the professional realm, we prefer people of similar convictions, but don’t always have that opportunity. At the local civic level there is a diversity of beliefs and motivations, but as long as the interaction remains civil, it is acceptable. In the political realm, in a two-party system, of necessity we may have fellow travelers as political allies who do not share our cultural views or religious convictions, and whom we would not necessarily choose as friends, but who are necessary to form a coalition for victory. Or we can remain pristine and pure, and relinquish political control to people who will use the concentration of power to limit our freedoms, take more of our earnings, and pervert the law for us and for future generations.
 
This leads to some very uneasy coalitions. For the conservative movement of the 1950s until 1990, communism was the glue that held the coalition together, as various strands joined forces to oppose the threat all agreed must be met, just as politicians of different stripes rallied together in two world wars. Do libertarians and conservative start from totally different points of reasoning? Absolutely. Do they share an understanding of the human person? No. Do they value culture and community in the same way? No. There are differences with neo-cons and paleo-cons and crunchy-cons, and all the other cons, too.But alone, none of these factions has enough sway to dominate elections. Such is life. And it may even be a good thing—at least the Founders thought so.
 
I had a conversation with an old FEE style libertarian over lunch not long ago. What is the highest goal of human life? For him, the answer is freedom. And I had the impertinence to ask him: Freedom for what? How can the answer not take virtue or transcendence into account? At that, he threw down his napkin and announced lunch was over. I was stunned. But as I was driving home reflecting, I realized (or remembered) it’s a closed system, which is why libertarian thought is so appealing to minds in search of airtight solutions. And it does not allow dissent.
 
The rich soil of faith, family and friends is where community is formed, where relationships flourish, where roots go down that nourish us. It is sometimes unpredictable, even messy, and the order that emerges is organic. This is where the little platoon lives and breathes, where stories are told and legacies are passed down. This is where truth emerges as we dig in the soil. This is where those of us who are rooted in Christ seek to walk out our faith in tangible deeds of sacrifice, loyalty and love, in relationship with people whose names we know. And the eternal language of love is written in the hearts of those whose lives we touch.
 
The political realm should protect our ability to do these things. In fact, political order in a republic depends on the virtues that are formed there. We need the political fellow travelers who may not share the same rootedness, but who agree that the political realm should protect these freedoms. We won’t agree on everything, not even on the highest goal of human life. But libertarians are necessary allies in a political coalition that may just barely muster enough votes to rebuke the present administration. The problem is not libertarians vs conservatives. The problem is the political operatives snatching huge hunks of what was the private sphere, spending the nation into oblivion, and trying to plant democracy in unready soil. And unfortunately, they are in both parties.

The Myth of America’s Golden Age

            
I hadn’t realized when I was growing up in Gary, Indiana, an industrial town on the southern shore of Lake Michigan plagued by discrimination, poverty and bouts of high unemployment, that I was living in the golden era of capitalism. It was a company town, named after the chairman of the board of U.S. Steel. It had the world’s largest integrated steel mill and a progressive school system designed to turn Gary into a melting pot fed by migrants from all over Europe. But by the time I was born in 1943, cracks in the pot were already appearing. To break strikes—to ensure that workers did not fully share in the productivity gains being driven by modern technology—the big steel companies brought African-American workers up from the South who lived in impoverished, separate neighborhoods.
Smokestacks poured poisons into the air. Periodic layoffs left many families living hand to mouth. Even as a kid, it seemed clear to me that the free market as we knew it was hardly a formula for sustaining a prosperous, happy and healthy society.
So when I went off to college to study economics, I was astonished by what I read. The standard economic texts of the time seemed to be unrelated to the reality I had witnessed growing up in Gary. They said that unemployment shouldn’t exist and that the market led to the best of all possible worlds. But if that were the case, I decided, I wanted to live in a different world. While other economists were obsessed with extolling the virtues of the market economy, I focused a lot of my work on why markets fail, and I devoted much of my Ph.D. thesis at MIT to understanding the causes of inequality.
Nearly half a century later, the problem of inequality has reached crisis proportions. John F. Kennedy, in the spirit of optimism that prevailed at the time I was a college student, once declared that a rising tide lifts all boats. It turns out today that almost all of us now are in the same boat—the one that holds the bottom 99 percent. It is a far different boat, one marked by more poverty at the bottom and a hollowing out of the middle class, than the one occupied by the top 1 percent.

Most disturbing is the realization that the American dream—the notion that we are living in the land of opportunity—is a myth. The life chances of a young American today are more dependent on the income and education of his parents than in many other advanced countries, including “old Europe.”
Now comes Thomas Piketty, who warns us in his justly celebrated new book, Capital in the 21st Century, that matters are only likely to get worse. Above all, he argues that the natural state of capitalism seems to be one of great inequality. When I was a graduate student, we were taught the opposite. The economist Simon Kuznets optimistically wrote that after an initial period of development in which inequality grew, it would begin to decline. Although data at the time were scarce, it might have been true when he wrote it: The inequalities of the 19th and early 20th centuries seemed to be diminishing. This conclusion appeared to be vindicated during the period from World War II to 1980, when the fortunes of the wealthy and the middle class rose together.

But the evidence of the last third of a century suggests this period was an aberration. It was a time of war-induced solidarity when the government kept the playing field level, and the GI Bill of Rights and subsequent civil rights advances meant that there was something to the American dream. Today, inequality is growing dramatically again, and the past three decades or so have proved conclusively that one of the major culprits is trickle-down economics—the idea that the government can just step back and if the rich get richer and use their talents and resources to create jobs, everyone will benefit.

It just doesn’t work; the historical data now prove that.

But it has taken us far too long as a country to understand this danger. Changes in the distribution of income and wealth occur slowly, which is why it requires a grand historical perspective of the kind that Piketty provides to get a feel for what is happening.

Ironically enough, the final proof debunking this very Republican idea of trickle-down economics has come from a Democratic administration. President Barack Obama’s banks-first approach to saving the nation from another Great Depression held that by giving money to the banks (rather than to homeowners who had been preyed upon by the banks), the economy would be saved. The administration poured billions into the banks that had brought the country to the brink of ruin, without setting conditions in return. When the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank engage in a rescue, they virtually always impose requirements to ensure the money is used in the way intended. But here, the government merely expressed the hope that the banks would keep credit, the lifeblood of the economy, flowing. And so the banks shrank lending, and paid their executives megabonuses, even though they had almost destroyed their businesses. Even then, we knew that much of the banks’ profits had been earned not by increasing the efficiency of the economy but by exploitation—through predatory lending, abusive credit-card practices and monopolistic pricing. The full extent of their misdeeds—for instance, the illegal manipulation of key interest rates and foreign exchange, affecting derivatives and mortgages in the amount of hundreds of trillions of dollars—was only just beginning to be fathomed.

Obama promised to stop these abuses, but so far only a single senior banker has gone to jail (along with a very few mid- and low-level employees). The president’s former Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, in his recent book, Stress Test, made a valiant but unsuccessful attempt to defend the administration’s actions, suggesting that there were no alternatives. But Geithner clearly worried excessively about the “moral hazard” of helping underwater homeowners—in other words, encouraging lax borrowing habits—while seeming to care far less about the moral hazard of helping banks, or the culpability of the banks in encouraging excessive indebtedness and in marketing mortgages that put unbearable risks on the poor and middle classes.

In fact, Geithner’s attempts to justify what the administration did only reinforce my belief that the system is rigged. If those who are in charge of making the critical decisions are so “cognitively captured” by the 1 percent, by the bankers, that they see that the only alternative is to give those who caused the crisis hundreds of billions of dollars while leaving workers and homeowners in the lurch, the system is unfair.

This approach also exacerbated one of the country’s most pressing problems: its growing inequality. Only with a vibrant middle class can the economy fully recover and grow faster. The more inequality, the slower the growth—a conclusion now endorsed even by the IMF. Because the less wealthy consume a greater share of their income than do the rich, they expand demand when they have more income. When demand is expanded, jobs are created: In this sense, it is ordinary Americans who are the real job creators. So inequality commands a high price: a weaker economy, marked by lower growth and more instability. It is not very complicated.

None of this is the outcome of inexorable economic forces, either; it’s the result of policies and politics—what we did and didn’t do. If our politics leads to preferential taxation of those who earn income from capital; to an education system in which the children of the rich have access to the best schools, but the children of the poor go to mediocre ones; to exclusive access by the wealthy to talented tax lawyers and offshore banking centers to avoid paying a fair share of taxes—then it is not surprising that there will be a high level of inequality and a low level of opportunity. And that these conditions will grow even worse.   

***

Cautiously and belatedly, some six years after the fact, the Obama administration has now begun to revise its views about the Great Recession. Even Geithner, in his book, agrees that more should have been done. But hey, resources were scarce, and one had to make bets where they would be most effective. That’s the point: Listening to the bankers, it’s not a surprise that he placed his money on the bankers. Even before Obama took office, I urged a greater emphasis on homeowners: that we should combine at least a little trickle-up economics with trickle-down economics. But those of my persuasion were given short shrift, as the administration sought counsel from the vested interests in the financial sector.

The Obamians seem bewildered that the country is not more thankful to its government for having prevented another Great Depression. They saved the banks, and in doing so, they saved the economy from a once-in-a-hundred-year storm. And they proudly point out that all the money given to the financial sector has been more than repaid. But in making such claims, they ignore some critical realities: It was not something that just happened. It was the result of reckless behavior, the predictable and predicted consequences of deregulation and the inadequate enforcement of the regulations that remained, of buying into the mind-set of the 1 percent and the bankers—for which Geithner and his mentor, former White House economic adviser Larry Summers, had more than a little culpability. It was as if, after an accident caused by drunk driving, in which the last drink was served by the police officer on duty, the drunk driver was put back into the driver’s seat, his car rushed to the repair shop, while the victim was left to languish at the scene of the crime.

The repayment itself is, at least in part, the result of a game that would do any con man proud. The government, under the auspices of the Federal Reserve, lends money to the bank at a near-zero interest rate. The bank then lends it back to the government at 2 or 3 percent, and the “profit” is paid back to the government in repayment of the “investment” the government made. Bank officials, meanwhile, get a bonus for the hefty returns they have “earned” for the bank—something a 12-year-old could have done. This is capitalism? In a true rule-of-law world, a drunk driver would have to pay for not only his own repair costs but also the damage he has inflicted—in this case, the cumulative loss of GDP, which now amounts to more than $8 trillion, and which is mounting at the rate of $2 trillion a year. The banks recover, while the typical American’s income plummets to levels not seen in two decades. It is understandable why there might be some anger in the body politic.

What we have here is not, as administration officials would have it, a failure to communicate. The problem was that Americans saw what they were doing. There was a healthy debate in the country about alternative courses of action—before, during and after the bailouts. The reason critics like Sheila Bair, Elizabeth Warren, Neil Barofsky, Simon Johnson, Paul Krugman and others (left, right and center) won the day—at least the intellectual debate and the war over public perceptions—was not that they were better communicators. It was that they had a more convincing message: There were alternative ways of rescuing the economy that were fairer and that would have resulted in a stronger economy. Instead, our politics and economics are now locked into a vicious circle: Economic inequality leads to political inequality, and this political inequality then leads to rewriting the rules to increase the level of economic inequality even further, and so on. The result? Ever greater disillusionment with our democracy.


Meanwhile, lower taxes on capital and lower inheritance taxes are allowing the accumulation of inherited wealth—in effect, the creation of a new American plutocracy. It is even possible, as I pointed out long ago in my Ph.D. thesis and as Piketty has emphasized, that wealth will be increasingly concentrated among a select few. The shared prosperity that marked the country in that golden age of my youth—in which every group saw its income growing but those at the bottom saw it rise the fastest—is long gone.

When I was growing up in Gary during its own smog-choked “golden age,” it was impossible to see where the city was going. We didn’t know, or talk, about the deindustrialization of America, which was about to occur. I didn’t realize, in other words, that the rather grim reality I was leaving behind was actually as good as Gary was ever going to get.
I fear America could be at the same place today.
Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate, is University professor of finance and economics at Columbia University.



Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/06/the-myth-of-americas-golden-age-108013.html#ixzz364DJK5yC

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Conservatism and the Therapeutic Society

 http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2012/10/conservatism-and-therapeutic-society.html

 
therapeutic societyConservatives active in the business of influencing public policy have been giving increasing attention in recent years to the idea that politics is ultimately an epiphenomenon of culture. What these activists have recognized is that political mobilization and efficiently produced position papers by themselves will not effect lasting change in the way we are governed. The force of a policy proposal will be strengthened in proportion to the extent that it is consonant with the larger representation of our communal aspirations—that representation being what we understand as “culture.” However, the crisis of the West in the modern age has involved the very dissolution of those binding and shared elements that define a culture.
 
Under the pressures of democratization, egalitarianism, and technological innovation, the religious and mythic roots of culture have been replaced by what is euphemistically called “pluralism.” The dispersion of cultural identity has long been the mission of liberalism, which cannot abide diversity, hierarchy, and moral restraints. A few conservatives still hold that the American tradition is not as thoroughly eroded as “New Class” urban intellectuals have claimed, but many conservatives now celebrate pluralism as an essential ingredient in a healthy, competitive democracy. In this sense, a large segment of conservatism has adopted J. S. Mill’s model of the “open society”: there are no public truths, only the struggle of ideas and interests. The irony here is that Mill’s liberalism is the antecedent to modern welfare-state liberalism, the supposed enemy of conservatism. It is an irony that many conservatives seem unable to recognize.

Without the common referents inherent in a cohesive culture, society is bound together, if at all, by superficial and evanescent “trends.” Lacking the centrality of the Word (in the form of scripture or sacred myth), we are left with the Image. But our images are not like icons or stained-glass: they refer to nothing beyond themselves. The highly visual society we inhabit, dominated as it is by television, film, videos, and both soft and hard pornography, is characterized by passive consumption and short attention spans. The result is a population of “other-directed” individuals, to use David Riesman’s terminology.
 
The danger attendant upon conservative attempts to influence the “cultural” ground of politics is that, far from revivifying culture, it is only a manipulation of images, a knocking together of short-term political alliances for a passing purpose. (Coalition-building is essential to politics, but not to culture; politicians can shift identity: principles cannot.) Thus some conservative policy journals have taken to interviewing conservative Hollywood actors, and publishing ghost-written essays by political superstars (often from the Left) in the game of winning friends and influencing people. No one has been bold enough to say it out loud, but the essential message in these images is: “Conservatism is sexy.” No doubt the conservative political cause has been advanced by these tactics. Unfortunately, the costs of these methods to the integrity of the conservative mission have yet to be gauged.
 
Recently, however, a prominent figure associated with one of the leading right-wing think tanks took his fellow conservatives to task for failing to perceive the underlying religious and cultural factors that have made it nearly impossible to dislodge the Marxist dream from the hearts of so many intellectuals and young people. For the purposes of convenience (personalities are not important here), I will call this writer Glaucon. The essence of Glaucon’s argument is this: conservatives have been unable to combat the appeal of Marxism because they have not seen that it is essentially a religion. Though communist states have become “desanctified” due to their manifest brutality and repression, other Marxist causes continue to inspire hope because Marxism speaks to an idealistic, religious longing. Marxism is especially pernicious because it promises an objective fulfillment of subjective desire, bringing chaos in its wake. Only when conservatives can speak to these longings by celebrating subjective, personal experience will they be able to detach others from the false religious incarnation of Marxism. Traditional Western religious symbols are bound up with objectivity and therefore must be abandoned. If alienated youth and intellectuals become interested in Oriental religions and the human potential movement, they will see through Marxism and become conservative. The only thing standing in the way of this development is the commitment of many conservatives to the obsolescent religious symbols of objectivity.
 
Despite its weaknesses and dangers. Glaucon’s argument has the merit of speaking to central issues, and deserves to be considered and, in my opinion, opposed, as something deeply inimical to the conservative mission.
 
The immediate problem with Glaucon’s reasoning stems from his lack of the concept of ideology. By calling Marxism a religion, he loses the ability to make necessary distinctions. Marxism does appeal to the alienated, but in precisely the opposite way to the higher religions. The religious sensibility requires faith, an openness to being. The order of being precedes man; man must therefore attune himself to the transcendent, which he experiences as placing him under moral obligations. The tension of faith, in which man struggles between the love of God and the love of self, is what ideology seeks to collapse. The ideologue sees the world as fundamentally evil, and believes that he bears within himself the truth (that is, a secularized divine will) which he must impose on the world. Marxism, as an ideology, arises out of an alienation from being. It is not a longing for the mysterious Giver of being, but a program for asserting power over being. Ideology does not relieve man of his alienation, but heightens estrangement and drives him toward revolutionary action.
 
The difference between ideology and religion is one that conservatives have labored to elaborate, and it is amazing that Glaucon seemingly has no access to this crucial work of analysis. But more pressing than this confusion is his dismissal of traditional Western symbols in favor of subjectivity. As Will Herberg, in his essay “What is the Moral Crisis of Our Time?” and other conservative theorists have noted, the subjective is not an unimportant aspect of our psychic make-up. Michael Polanyi and John Lukacs, for instance, have stressed the personal nature of our knowledge. But man is not limited to pure subjectivity: that is solipsism, and it leads inevitably to the anarchy that dissolves culture.
 
Glaucon’s celebration of personal feeling —he cites psychological counseling, which, he says, “encourages people to validate their relationships and values in relation to how they feel internally”—is an example of what sociologist Philip Rieff has termed “the triumph of the therapeutic.” Order becomes self-created; instead of adjusting himself toward an objective moral order of good and evil, he “validates” his feelings. The rise of the therapeutic mentality is co-extensive with the secularization of the West, according to Rieff. In characterizing the therapeutic society, he writes: “Where family and nation once stood, or Church and Party, there will be hospital and theater too, the normative institutions of the next culture. . . . Religious man was born to be saved; psychological man is born to be pleased.” Glaucon’s psychological imperative is not the Socratic “Know Thyself,” which involved an ordering of the self toward transcendent being, but “I’m OK, You’re OK.”
 
The ”human potential movement,” typified by such groups as the Esalen Institute, est, and Westernized brands of Eastern religion, is itself evidence of the fallout of modern man’s alienation, which in turn derives from the fragmentation of culture. “Every culture,” Rieff writes, “must establish itself as a system of moralizing demands, images that mark the trail of each man’s memory; thus to distinguish right actions from wrong the inner ordinances are set, by which men are guided in their conduct so as to assure a mutual security of contact.” For all the psychological soul-searching of movements like the Esalen Institute, the individuals in search of therapy are locked in their own personal voids: they are desperately looking for “security of contact.” As distinct from legitimate psychological counseling, the human potentialists are literally lost souls. Those who put their trust in the Esalen Institute are seeking the same escape from alienation that the intellectual or college radical seeks in the proletarian revolution.
 
It is difficult to see how the championing of subjectivity will lead to mass conversions to the conservative ranks. Tom Wolfe has made the “human potential movement” famous in his essay on the “Me Decade,” and there are many who rightly see this phenomenon in the words of psychologist Paul Vitz; “psychology as self-worship.” Asked to comment on the relationship between conservatism and the New Age movements, Christopher Hitchens, editor of the radical magazine The Nation, said: “I’ve always thought that people too readily think of New Age stuff as leftist… there’s no reason why this couldn’t appeal to selfish conservatives as well.” Whatever justifications Glaucon can make for the New Age, the association of selfish capitalists with selfish psychologism will do nothing but hurt conservatism.
 
But it isn’t necessary simply to abandon the traditional symbols of the West, however much they have been attacked and enervated. The purpose of the artist and the philosopher is to recall us to the experiences that engender the symbols of order, and we have not been lacking such prophets in this ravaged century. Who has done more to restore the meaning of the “soul” than Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who discovered that totalitarianism can strip man of everything but his irreducible spirit? The answer to Marxist ideologues and the disoriented seekers after “personal growth” is a reawakened sense of order and responsibility. True order does not lie in either the laws of history—or in whatever feels good.
 
As Will Herberg concludes in “What is the Moral Crisis of Our Time?”: “Real standards come in and through tradition.” Of course, truth has to be ascertained independently of tradition, but so long as we suffer from collective amnesia, so long as we act as if we can create order out of our heads, we will be condemned to be as the flower of the fields, which passes away. It is no coincidence that Glaucon emphasizes the need to communicate to youth: they are subjective because they have not undergone the process of enculturation. Indeed, the condition of radical subjectivity is a prolonging of adolescence. Richard Weaver, in Visions of Order, noted the relation between the “attack on memory” and the elevation of youth to an exalted position in society.
The virtues of youth are freshness and vitality, but these are not the virtues that fit one to be the custodian of the culture that society has produced. Deferring to youth is another way of weakening continuity. Mark almost any young person, and you notice that he does not see very much, in the sense of understanding what is present to his vision. He perceives, but he does not interpret, and this is because he is too lacking in those memory traces which lead to ideas and concepts. The memoryless part of mankind cannot be the teachers of culture. They are, however, ready learners of it if the real teachers show faith in the value of what they have.
The gravamen of Glaucon’s argument is that conservatives must reach out to new constituencies, particularly youth and the intellectuals. This is a challenge which conservatives have met, but which they must continue to take up. Instead of appealing to alienation by offering the anesthetic of subjectivism, we must restore our sensitivity toward moral order. The recovery of order requires hard work and humility. It is not a quick fix, and it will not create an instant political coalition to enact the conservative agenda (however important political action is in its own sphere). But it will restore health to our culture. The rest will follow from that.

How Churches Became Cruise Ships (2)

http://skyejethani.com/how-churches-became-cruise-ships-2/

Central Park, Allure of the Seas

In the first part of this article I examined how the radical shifts in the American church paralleled the transformation of the passenger shipping industry in the 20th century. Prior to the 1960s, ships were primarily a form of transportation. When this utilitarian function was disrupted by jet travel, the cruise industry was born by transforming ships themselves into the destination and triggering a rapid increase in the size of the vessels.

Similarly, in the mid 20th century the utilitarian role of the church, transporting people into communion with God, was disrupted by secularism. This led innovative pastors to transform churches into destinations rather than vehicles, and attracting irreligious consumers required much larger churches with previously unimaginable offerings. The megachurch explosion began.

Read Part 1 of “How Churches Became Cruise Ships”

Both the cruise industry and megachurches have been incredibly successful ever since. In 1970 only 500,000 people took a cruise, and there were only 10 megachurches in the United States. In 2010 over 14 million people cruised, and there are now over 1,500 megachurches. If the transformation of the passenger shipping industry has helped us understand the emergence of the megachurch phenomenon, what might it say about its weaknesses?

In the early years of the cruise business ship owners believed the airlines were their competition. Rather than flying to Bermuda, the Caribbean, or Mexico, cruise lines tried to sell the romance and glamour of an ocean voyage (remember “The Love Boat”?) as superior to the speed of air travel. Eventually, however, cruise lines accepted that they were not in the transportation business, but rather the vacation business. This meant Carnival Cruise Lines wasn’t competing with United, Southwest, or even other cruise lines, but with Disney World and Las Vegas.

To win more of the vacation market some cruise lines began to downplay the allure of the sea and instead built amenities aboard their ships people expected to find at land-based resorts. Today there are ships with water parks, roller coasters, golf courses, planetariums, bumper cars, even tree-lined parks with carousels and ice skating rinks. Step on to Oasis of the Seas’ cavernous main boulevard with fountains, cars, street performers, and a bar that ascends four stories through a glass canopy, and you’ll hear awestruck passengers saying, “I can’t believe I’m on a ship.”

And that is the problem.

What happened to the sea? The “Royal Promenade” aboard Oasis of the Seas.

By trying to compete with land-based resorts, these cruise lines literally lost sight of their unique value proposition–the sea. Ships are so crammed with amenities designed to lure passengers and their dollars, it is now possible to spend all day on a ship and never see the ocean. While a passenger may catch a musical, play golf, or ride a roller coaster, the inherent limitations of a ship, no matter how big, mean these experiences will never match what is possible on land. Broadway will always have better productions and Six Flags will always have better rides. As a result the modern cruise industry is engaged in a strange delusion. It is ignoring the one thing it can offer that no one else can–the allure of sea travel–to compete in areas where it can never win.

The church can learn an important lesson from this delusion: Relevance backfires when it
overshadows your uniqueness. Not every cruise line has succumbed to this temptation, nor has every megachurch. Some, however, find the accolades of cultural relevance too affirming, and the pressure to fill thousands of seats every weekend too demanding. They will spend millions of dollars for state-of-the-art theater equipment, will stock their children’s departments with Xboxs and 3-story playgrounds, and even run live Twitter feeds during worship. Churches that can’t afford these “wow” factors or a tattooed pastor with electric personality, may still feel the pressure to run an expanding array of programs normally found at a community college or YMCA all to attract consumers away from their devices and health clubs to the church.

At the same time these churches strip away their distinguishing qualities. Gone are the crosses, stained glass windows, steeples, hymns, pews, and liturgies. Sanctuaries become auditoriums. Choirs become bands. Communion becomes a coffee bar. Like a cruise passenger who never experiences the sea, some attenders may be so occupied with programs and productions that they may never actually experience the church.

A friend recently told me about a convicting conversation he had with a newcomer to his congregation. The man, from a Hindu background, came to the large church about a month earlier because he was curious about Jesus. “Everyone here has been very friendly to me,” he reported to the pastor, “and my family has been enjoying all of the programs. But I do have one question. When am I going to learn about Jesus?” The church’s reason for having its mega-building and programs is to more effectively draw people to Christ, but the pastor wondered out loud whether they had gradually confused their methods and their mission. After all, the church could survive if people don’t meet Jesus, but not if they don’t meet their budget.

This story reminds me of recent research conducted by Barna. While pastors are scrambling to discover the secret bullet to engage young adults, Barna found the top reasons millennials want to attend church are to be closer to God (51%) and to learn more about God (31%). Imagine that. It’s like discovering people want to take a cruise because they like the sea–no roller coasters necessary.
Eventually we will learn that no matter how much money, effort, or innovation the church possesses, it will never be as cool as the culture. Relevance is a race it cannot win, but in our misguided attempts to compete with the culture we risk losing sight of the only thing of value the church can offer the world–Jesus Christ.

Part 3 about the fragility of big ships and big churches will be posted soon.

Friday, June 27, 2014

What Everybody Ought to Know About Team Development

http://thev3movement.org/2014/06/what-everybody-ought-to-know-about-team-development/

Lord of the Flies, William Golding’s novel about a group of boys stuck on an uninhabited island, remains a classic. What at first seemed like an ideal situation for a bunch of kids away from their parents soon became a rather harrowing experience.  Stranded all by themselves, they were suddenly forced to entertain an entirely new set of challenges.

One of the many challenges they faced was how to function as a group. Questions related to roles and responsibilities in the group began to surface. Needless to say, this group of kids could not come to a place of unity. Their disagreements about how live together led them to splinter into two opposing groups, each with their own methods of survival. Unfortunately, the boy’s naiveté and immaturity got the best of them. Their inability to function as a team seriously undermined their ability to face the challenges of their environment.  The boys finally make it off the island, but not without significant trauma and violence to certain members of the group.

Lord of the Flies, has enduring relevance, not just as a classic piece of literature, but also for those who are in the business of forming new teams. There is a particular set of challenges that come with teamwork. This is especially true when those teams are looking to be on mission together.
Issues related to vision and values, roles and responsibilities, communication and conflicts, just to name a few, will naturally emerge when people join up and go on a journey together. Being aware of how groups form, and the ways they can develop over time can help you navigate the challenges that naturally emerge when people lock arms and go on mission together.

Professor and author Bruce Tuckman has developed a helpful way of describing some of the challenges teams experience. He calls this path of development called Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, Adjourning. Each of these stages of development brings with it certain challenges that have to be worked through and resolved if the group is going to move forward and develop its potential.

The following is a brief sketch of Tuchman’s model, with one overriding question that tends to dominate that stage of the group’s development.  We are going to apply his model specifically to the formation of new leadership teams, but these same principles can also be applied to the formation of new groups in general.

Forming: IN or OUT?

The first stage is called Forming because people are coming together to form a new team. At this stage group members are wondering what it means to be IN the team. Where is the team going? Why is the team going there? How do I fit in the team? What roles are available in the team, and which role do I want to play? How do others in the team see me, and how do I want to be seen by them? In essence, all of these questions point to the larger, overarching question related to what it means to be IN or OUT of the team. New team members are looking for clear boundaries and expectations that can help them know where they are in relation to the leader(s), the team members, and the team itself.
At this stage of the team’s development, there is often a high dependency on the leader(s) to define these initial boundaries and expectations of the new team. As the principal leader(s) of the group, you have the task of clearly outlining the expectations of what it means to be a part of the group. Initially, this means formulating things like:
  1. Missional Vision: where are we going?
  2. Missional Methods: how will we get there?
  3. Missional Practices: in what disciplines will we regularly engage?
  4. Missional Marks: how will we measure faithfulness and fruitfulness?
While these four building blocks of culture answer the “big picture” questions about the group, there are other more practical questions that also have to be addressed. For example:
  • How much time is required of group members?
  • What will the weekly, monthly, seasonal, and yearly rhythm of the team look like?
  • What will the rule of life be to which they will (voluntarily) be held accountable?
  • Will there be any financial commitments?
Clearly outlining these expectations not only helps people know what you are inviting them into, but it also lays the groundwork for healthy accountability to take place within the team.

The leadership’s role in the initial phases of forming a new team is to clearly define what it means to be IN or OUT, and help people work through the implications of what it means to be a part of the team.

Storming: ME or WE?

In the Forming phase, team members are looking for common ground and often sacrifice their own individual identities in order to fit into the collective identity of the group. In other words, in the beginning, not everyone puts all their cards on the table. People often hold back from sharing who they really are and what they think in order to experience safety and harmony in the group.

However, this kind of restraint can only last so long. Eventually, people will begin to open up and share more of who they are, as well as their own unique perspectives on various topics or tasks. When this starts to happen, it will create a subtle kind of tension within the group. What once felt like a simple, unified group now starts to feel more complex and diverse. This is especially true when it comes to leadership teams where problem solving and decision making require team members to contribute their own unique perspectives. This can potentially put them in conflict with other team members, as well as the leadership.

Storming happens when the team begins to wrestle through the practicalities of diversity in the group.  For example, if someone signs on to be a part of the leadership team, but consistently misses the weekly leadership team meeting that was clearly outlined in the team’s rhythm of life, then this person could be wrestling with their priorities as a team member. In simple terms, they are putting ME before WE.

Sometimes STORMING happens when a team member reveals that they were never in full agreement with what it meant to be a part of the team in the first place. They may not like the team’s stated mission, methods, marks or practices. In this kind of scenario, the team member has to work through issues related to ME or WE? Can they bring their own preferences under submission to the team, or are their convictions ultimately incompatible with the team? They will have to make a decision to either go with ME or WE.

Team leaders, you should not be surprised by conflict at this stage.  Sometimes people do not voice their disagreements up front. Instead, they wait until they feel like the group or leaders will not reject them for doing so. In other cases, sometimes people are not aware of the practical implications of being part of a team. Ultimately, being part of a team will require them to cede some of their personal preferences for the sake of the team.

In order for teams to work, individuals have to sacrifice some of their autonomy and individuality for the sake of the team and its mission. In other words, the WE has to, in some sense, take precedence over the ME. The task of leadership at this stage is to remind people of why they first joined the team, and encourage people to come up with creative solutions that stand in the way of them moving from a predominantly ME orientation to a predominantly WE orientation.

Norming: NOW or LATER?

At this stage, the group has moved past the conflict stage and begins to settle into what it means to work as a team. If the FORMING stage has to do with boundaries, and the STORMING stage was about wrestling with those boundaries, then the NORMING stage is when team members begin to settle into their roles and responsibilities on the team.

At this stage, the leadership’s task is to focus the team’s energies and attention on tasks that will help them achieve their goals. This means mapping out what the short and long-term goals are, as well as prioritizing what needs to happen first in order for goals to be reached. For example, if a team of 10 people are planting a church together, they have to figure out how they are going to do mission together. Do they want to jump right in and throw a block party in one of the neighborhoods they live in, or do they want to start by prayer walking the neighborhoods to get a feel for what God is up to in that area? Both a Block Party and a Prayer Walk are good ideas, but a decision has to be made as to which one will come first. This is means discerning what tasks should be done NOW or LATER.

As a general rule, it is often helpful to create a 6 month track in which tasks are clearly defined and sequentially ordered. This allows team members to see where they are going, as well as how they can play a role in the ongoing life of the team.

Performing: PUSH or PULL?

Once a team settles into their roles and responsibilities, and has a clear vision of where they are going, they can focus their energies and attention on the work at hand. This is a great stage to be in because by this time, the group has learned how negotiate the diversity of personalities and perspectives in the team, and is primarily concerned with working as a team towards common goals.
Most teams that make it to this stage of development are able to see a significant level of fruitfulness from their efforts. However, this stage is not without its challenges. Once a team has passed from the NORMING stage into the PERFORMING stage, it runs the risk of drifting into the trappings of routine and institutionalization. In their busyness, teams can lose sight of what is going on around them and become ritualistic in their roles and responsibilities. In the words of Kurt Lewin, a team can “freeze” up and get locked into a particular pattern that becomes detrimental.

Helping a team “unfreeze” means disturbing it in some way. This involves what Kurt Lewin calls engaging in PUSH or PULL. PUSH is when you make the present less comfortable by challenging people to press forward. PULL is when you make the future more desirable by challenging people to see a greater vision of what could be. Your task as a leader is to discern whether or not you need to PUSH or PULL the team through these “frozen” stages.

Transforming: US or THEM?

In keeping with our aim of multiplying disciples, leaders, missional communities, churches and networks, we will replace the Adjourning phase of Tuckman’s model with the language of Transforming. As leadership teams go through these successive stages of development, the groups they lead will eventually begin to bear fruit and flourish. (Some groups do indeed die, but this too is a form of transforming.) While each group will grow at a different pace, every group will have to negotiate the challenges of addition and multiplication. In either scenario, the overriding question can typically be captured in the phrase US or THEM?

Addition

When a group grows in number, there is often an unspoken tension between the original group and the newcomers. This is especially true when the original group starts to be outnumbered. For example, does the original group continue to invest in building their relationships with each other, or do they shift their time and energy towards building relationships with new people in the group? This is a question that can be summed up by US or THEM?

Multiplication:

When a group grows to the point where it has to multiply into two groups, the question of US or THEM is most clearly seen as people having to wrestle with which group they will be a part of after the group multiplies. For example, when multiplying a missional community, people have to decide whether or not they want to go with the group that is going to pursue a new neighborhood or network, or if they want to stay with the existing group and continue to pursue the existing mission focus of that particular missional community. Again, this is fundamentally a question related to US or THEM?

Subtraction:

Some groups die. This is a normal part of the cycle of life. When groups die and disband, sometimes there is a tendency to scapegoat within the group. Was it our fault or their fault? We typically default to answering this question by saying “It was definitely their fault.” When a group dies and disbands, group members have to work through the temptation to blame and scapegoat one another for why the group did not survive. It is the task of the leader to help the group name both the good and the bad things the group experienced, as well as learn from the experience.

Regressing and Progressing

One of the important things to remember about stages of group development is that groups can slip back into previous stages. Just because you move from STORMING to NORMING does not mean you are in the clear. A group can regress from NORMING back to STORMING, forcing the group to revisit issues related to ME or WE.

If the conflict lingers too long, the group will have to revisit the FORMING stage and decisions will have to be made about who is IN the team and who is OUT of the team. Regressing back to a former stage is never fun, but if the team is willing to work through the challenges of that stage, they can eventually progress and move on to the next stage of development.

Groups can also pass through one stage relatively quickly, while lingering for what seems like forever in another. Every team is different, which means every team will grow and develop at its own rate. The important thing is to not rush the process and inadvertently ignore the pressing questions that surface at each stage of development.

At V3, our training is designed to help you navigate the challenges of leading teams so you can build healthy and effective teams to lead new missional communities and church plants. If you are interested in receiving more in-depth training on how to make disciples, train leaders, and plant churches, start by taking the church planter questionnaire here.

As the principal leader(s) of the team, you have the task of helping the group navigate the challenges and questions associated with each stage of development.

As a planter, after your family, your core leadership team is perhaps the most pivotal group for you to develop in the first stages of your plant. It will play a foundational role to the development of the initial church. So much so, that you can pretty much say “so goes the leadership team, so goes the plant.” Your team will function as the initial point of reference for the kind of culture you will be creating.

Did Walker Percy Really Write the Last Self-Help Book?


So lots of readers (about six) have written me asking for advice on what book they should read to turn their lives around.
 
Here’s my recommendation:  Lost in the Cosmos by the philosopher-physician-novelist Walker Percy. It was published in 1983, and I’m one of the very few Americans celebrating the book’s 30th anniversary. Several posts will be required to lay out even the basics about being lost in the cosmos.
 
This, of course, is the first.
 
Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos is subtitled “The Last Self-Book.” He said he gave the book that title so that it would end up in the self-help section of bookstores. And it did.
 
From Percy’s view, our bookstores are mostly filled with two kinds of books—self-help books and diverting or entertaining books about scandal-ridden law firms or extraterrestrials or vampires or a bunch of sexually obsessive shades of grey. Diversions, of course, get your mind off yourself, relieve your stress, help out in alleviating your fears, your anxieties, your boredom. According to Pascal, most of our lives are diversions, escapes from what we really know, evidence of our misery without God. According to Percy, most of our lives these days are diversions that become progressively more disappointing. The pursuit of happiness has become the pursuit of diversion in the midst of prosperity. And one problem among many about living in our highly self-conscious time is that diversions we know are merely diversions are boring or only very weak and evaporating antidotes to despair. That’s why Percy knew people visiting museums are mostly ineffectively fending off despondency. That’s also why highly educated bourgeois Americans today try so hard and fail so miserably in being bohemians too.
 
Percy adds that the self-help books are diversions too. They claim to use the latest studies to tell us who we are and what we’re supposed to do. They tell us that we need, say, seven habits to be highly effective, to be productive, to satisfy our basically material needs. We are, like the other animals, organisms in environments, and we can be happy if we’re think for ourselves, listen to the experts, stay safe or avoid all the risk factors, are rich, and have effective interpersonal dynamics. But lots of us, Percy observes, faithfully follow the self-help advice and end up feeling more disoriented or displaced or more empty than ever. All the self-help experts can add is to stay busy (but with stress-relieving periods of recreation) and positive so eventually things will turn around for you.
 
So the self-help books work well for a while but eventually fail, as all diversions do. They claim to but do not really tell us who we are and what we’re supposed to do. They can’t extinguish the experiences of self-consciousness or the self or soul by denying that what’s distinctively human about each of us really exists. They can’t take out what the existentialists, such as the philosopher Heidegger, truthfully describe. We’re not organisms in an environment, and so we can’t really lose ourselves—our personal identities—in some environment, in some cosmos in which each of us is merely a part. We can’t lose being lost. That’s why the master psychologist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn heard just beneath the surface of all our happy-talk pragmatism the howl of existentialism.
 
For Percy, the resulting anxiety—the experience of being an inexplicable or absurd leftover in the world the experts describe—ought to be a prelude to wonder about how strange the human self or soul is. But for the experts, anxiety that has no environmental cause (such as being isolated from the other social animals) must have a physical or chemical cause. So there must be a physical or chemical remedy—a mood-altering or mood-elevating drug. As Percy explains, for our experts psychiatry—discovering who we are and what we’re supposed to do through attentive conversation—is replaced by a kind of chemo-therapy. For Percy, Socrates and Freud were old-fashioned doctors of the soul; the expert objection to their approach is that was time-consuming and expensive and the results uncertain or unreliable. Who cares about the so-called real cause if we can effectively manage the symptoms? Why shouldn’t we choose the moods that make us upbeat and productive?
 
Self-consciousness doesn’t become the enemy, but something to be controlled or managed through technology. But the truth is that even the drugs or chemotherapy don’t work better than diversions. It’s easy to zap self-consciousness out of existence, but that would make the zappers the masters and the zapped the slaves. The zappers, as a result, would be more miserably lonely than ever. And, in our irrational pride and our love, we don’t really want to surrender our personal identities. We want to be able to manage our self-consciousness the way we can techno-control everything else. But our experts don’t really know what engineered mood or judicious mixture of moods would really make us happy or at home. It turns out that our moods—the moods we’ve been given by nature—are indispensable clues to the truth about who we are and what we’re supposed to do. That’s why Percy says, against the chemotherapists, that he has a right to his anxiety. It’s his right to liberty that might lead to real truth and real happiness.
 
The other self-help books can’t tell each of us why we have that right, because they don’t even admit each of us is invincibly lost in the cosmos without help we can’t possibly provide for ourselves. We’re born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. Our alienation doesn’t have an environmental or physical or political or Historical cause; it’s part of and caused by our self-consciousness or personal identity. It’s at the core of our real psychology.
 
So every self-help book has been a failure until Percy’s. His is the first truthful and effective self-help book. For that reason, it’s also the last self-help book. Percy explains, quite scientifically, why each of us is homeless, and, by so doing, he helps us be at home with our homelessness, and so free to be as at home as we can be with the good things of this world.
Stay tuned. There’s a lot more to come.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Is There Sex in Heaven?

http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/sex-in-heaven.htm

The Kiss by Rodin   (Permission by Mark Harden; http://www.artchive.com)

We cannot know what X-in-Heaven is unless we know what X is. We cannot know what sex in Heaven is unless we know what sex is. We cannot know what in Heaven's name sex is unless we know what on earth sex is.

But don't we know? Haven't we been thinking about almost nothing else for years and years? What else dominates our fantasies, waking and sleeping, twenty-four nose-to-the-grindstone hours a day? What else fills our TV shows, novels, plays, gossip columns, self-help books, and psychologies but sex?

No, we do not think too much about sex; we think hardly at all about sex. Dreaming, fantasizing, feeling, experimenting—yes. But honest, look-it-in-the-face thinking?—hardly ever. There is no subject in the world about which there is more heat and less light.

Therefore I want to begin with four abstract philosophical principles about the nature of sex. They are absolutely necessary not only for sanity about sex in Heaven but also for sanity about sex on earth, a goal at least as distant as Heaven to our sexually suicidal society. The fact that sex is public does not mean it is mature and healthy. The fact that there are thousands of "how to do it" books on the subject does not mean that we know how; in fact, it means the opposite. It is when everybody's pipes are leaking that people buy books on plumbing.

My four philosophical principles will seem strange or even shocking to many people today. Yet they are far from radical, or even original; they are simply the primeval platitudes known to all premodern societies; the sane, sunny country of sexual common sense by the vote of "the democracy of the dead". Yet in another way they are "radical", in the etymological sense of the word: they are our sexual roots, and our uprooted society is rooting around looking for sexual substitute roots like a pig rooting for truffles. It has not found them. That fact should at least make us pause and look back at our "wise blood", our roots. Here are four of them.

First Principle: Sex Is Something You Are, Not Something You Do

Suppose you saw a book with the title "The Sexual Life of a Nun". You would probably assume it was a scurrilous, gossipy sort of story about tunnels connecting convents and monasteries, clandestine rendezvous behind the high altar, and masking a pregnancy as a tumor. But it is a perfectly proper title: all nuns have a sexual life. They are women, not men. When a nun prays or acts charitably, she prays or acts, not he. Her celibacy forbids intercourse, but it cannot forbid her to be a woman. In everything she does her essence plays a part, and her sex is as much a part of her essence as her age, her race, and her sense of humor.

The counterfeit phrase "having sex" (meaning "inter- course") was minted only recently. Of course a nun "has sex" she is female. Draftees often fill in the box on their induction forms labeled "sex" not with the word "male" but "occasionally" or "please!" The joke would have been unintelligible to previous generations. The significance of the linguistic change is that we have trivialized sex into a thing to do rather than a quality of our inner being. It has become a thing of surfaces and external feeling rather than of personality and internal feeling. Thus even masturbation is called "having sex", though it is exactly the opposite: a denial of real relationship with the other sex.

The words "masculinity" and "femininity", meaning something more than merely biological maleness and femaleness, have been reduced from archetypes to stereotypes. Traditional expectations that men be men and women be women are confused because we no longer know what to expect men and women to be. Yet, though confused, the expectations remain. Our hearts desire, even while our minds reject, the old "stereotypes". The reason is that the old stereotypes were closer to our innate sexual instincts than are the new stereotypes. We have sexist hearts even while we have unisex heads.
Evidence for this claim? More people are attracted to the old stereotypes than to the new ones. Romeo still wants to marry Juliet.

The main fault in the old stereotypes was their too-tight connection between sexual being and social doing, their tying of sexual identity to social roles, especially for women: the feeling that it was somehow unfeminine to be a doctor, lawyer, or politician. But the antidote to this illness is not confusing sexual identities but locating them in our being rather than in our doing. Thus we can soften up social roles without softening up sexual identities. In fact, a man who is confident of his inner masculinity is much more likely to share in traditionally female activities like housework and baby care than one who ties his sexuality to his social roles.

If our first principle is accepted, if sexuality is part of our inner essence, then it follows that there is sexuality in Heaven, whether or not we "have sex" and whether or not we have sexually distinct social roles in Heaven.

Second Principle: The Alternative to Chauvinism Is Not Egalitarianism

The two most popular philosophies of sexuality today seem totally opposed to each other; yet at a most basic level they are in agreement and are equally mistaken. The two philosophies are the old chauvinism and the new egalitarianism; and they seem totally opposed. For chauvinism (a) sees one sex as superior to the other, "second", sex. This is usually the male, but there are increasingly many strident female chauvinist voices in the current cacophony. This presupposes (b) that the sexes are intrinsically different, different by nature not social convention. Egalitarianism tries to disagree with (a) totally; it thinks that to do so it has to disagree with (b) as well. But this means that it agrees with chauvinism on (c), the unstated but assumed premise that all differences must be differences in value, or, correlatively, that the only way for two things to be equal in value is for them to be equal in nature. Both philosophies see sameness or superiority as the only options. It is from this assumption (that differences are differences in value) that the chauvinist argues that the sexes are different in nature, therefore they are different in value. And it is from the same assumption that the egalitarian argues that the sexes are not different in value, therefore they are not different in nature.
 
Chauvinism:
Egalitarianism:
      
(c)
and (b)
therefore (a)
(c)
and not (a)
therefore not (b)
     

Once this premise is smoked out, it is easy to see how foolish both arguments are. Of course not all differences are differences in value. Are dogs better than cats, or cats than dogs? Or are they different only by convention, not by nature? Chauvinist and egalitarian should both read the poets, songwriters, and mythmakers to find a third philosophy of sexuality that is both more sane and infinitely more interesting. It denies neither the obvious rational truth that the sexes are equal in value (as the chauvinist does) nor the equally obvious instinctive truth that they are innately different (as the egalitarian does). It revels in both, and in their difference: vive la difference!

If sexual differences are natural, they are preserved in Heaven, for "grace does not destroy nature but perfects it" If sexual differences are only humanly and socially conventional, Heaven will remove them as it will remove economics and penology and politics. (Not many of us have job security after death. That is one advantage of being a philosopher.) All these things came after and because of the Fall, but sexuality came as part of God's original package: "be fruitful and multiply". God may unmake what we make, but He does not unmake what He makes. God made sex, and God makes no mistakes.

Saint Paul's frequently quoted statement that "in Christ there is neither male nor female" does not mean there is no sex in Heaven. For it refers not just to Heaven but also to earth: we are "in Christ" now. (In fact, if we are not "in Christ" now there is no hope of Heaven for us!) But we are male or female now. His point is that our sex does not determine our "in-Christness"; God is an equal opportunity employer. But He employs the men and women He created, not the neuters of our imagination.

Third Principle: Sex Is Spiritual

That does not mean "vaguely pious, ethereal, and idealistic". "Spiritual" means "a matter of the spirit", or soul, or psyche, not just the body. Sex is between the ears before it's between the legs. We have sexual souls.

For some strange reason people are shocked at the notion of sexual souls. They not only disagree; the idea seems utterly crude, superstitious, repugnant, and incredible to them. Why? We can answer this question only by first answering the opposite one: why is the idea reasonable, enlightened, and even necessary?

The idea is the only alternative to either materialism or dualism. If you are a materialist, there is simply no soul for sex to be a quality of. If you are a dualist, if you split body and soul completely, if you see a person as a ghost in a machine, then one half of the person can be totally different from the other: the body can be sexual without the soul being sexual. The machine is sexed, the ghost is not. (This is almost the exact opposite of the truth: ghosts, having once been persons, have sexual identity from their personalities, their souls. Machines do not.)

No empirical psychologist can be a dualist; the evidence for psychosomatic unity is overwhelming. No pervasive feature of either body or soul is insulated from the other; every sound in the soul echoes in the body, and every sound in the body echoes in the soul. Let the rejection of dualism be Premise One of our argument.

Premise Two is the even more obvious fact that biological sexuality is innate, natural, and in fact pervasive to every cell in the body. It is not socially conditioned, or conventional, or environmental; it is hereditary.

The inevitable conclusion from these two premises is that sexuality is innate, natural, and pervasive to the whole person, soul as well as body. The only way to avoid the conclusion is to deny one of the two premises that logically necessitate it-to deny psychosomatic unity or to deny innate somatic sexuality.

In the light of this simple and overwhelming argument, why is the conclusion not only unfamiliar but shocking to so many people in our society? I can think of only two reasons. The first is a mere misunderstanding, the second a serious and substantial mistake.

The first reason would be a reaction against what is wrongly seen as monosexual soul-stereotyping. A wholly male soul, whatever maleness means, or a wholly female soul, sounds unreal and oversimplified. But that is not what sexual souls implies. Rather, in every soul there is—to use Jungian terms—anima and animus, femaleness and maleness; just as in the body, one predominates but the other is also present. If the dominant sex of soul is not the same as that of the body, we have a sexual misfit, a candidate for a sex change operation of body or of soul, earthly or Heavenly. Perhaps Heaven supplies such changes just as it supplies all other needed forms of healing. In any case, the resurrection body perfectly expresses its soul, and since souls are innately sexual, that body will perfectly express its soul's true sexual identity.

A second reason why the notion of sexual souls sounds strange to many people may be that they really hold a pantheistic rather than a theistic view of spirit as undifferentiated, or even infinite. They think of spirit as simply overwhelming, or leaving behind, all the distinctions known to the body and the senses. But this is not the Christian notion of spirit, nor of infinity. Infinity itself is not undifferentiated in God. To call God infinite is not to say He is everything in general and nothing in particular: that is confusing God with The Blob! God's infinity means that each of His positive and definite attributes, such as love, wisdom, power, justice, and fidelity, is unlimited.

Spirit is no less differentiated, articulated, structured, or formed than matter. The fact that our own spirit can suffer and rejoice far more, more delicately and exquisitely, and in a far greater variety of ways, than can the body-this fact should be evidence of spirit's complexity. So should the fact that psychology is nowhere near an exact science, as anatomy is.

Differences in general, and sexual differences in particular, increase rather than decrease as you move up the cosmic hierarchy. (Yes, there is a cosmic hierarchy, unless you can honestly believe that oysters have as much right to eat you as you have to eat them.) Angels are as superior to us in differentiation as we are to animals. God is infinitely differentiated, for He is the Author of all differences, all forms.

Each act of creation in Genesis is an act of differentiation—light from darkness, land from sea, animals from plants, and so on. Creating is forming, and forming is differentiating. Materialism believes differences in form are ultimately illusory appearance; the only root reality is matter. Pantheism also believes differences in form are ultimately illusory; the only root reality is one universal Spirit. But theism believes form is real because God created it. And whatever positive reality is in the creation must have its model in the Creator. We shall ultimately have to predicate sexuality of God Himself, as we shall see next.

Fourth Principle: Sex Is Cosmic

Have you ever wondered why almost all languages except English attribute sexuality to things? Trees, rocks, ships, stars, horns, kettles, circles, accidents, trips, ideas, feelings-these, and not just men and women, are masculine or feminine. Did you always assume unthinkingly that this was of course a mere projection and personification, a reading of our sexuality into nature rather than reading nature's own sexuality out of it (or rather, out of her)? Did it ever occur to you that it just might be the other way round, that human sexuality is derived from cosmic sexuality rather than vice versa, that we are a local application of a universal principle? If not, please seriously consider the idea now, for it is one of the oldest and most widely held ideas in our history, and one of the happiest.
It is a happy idea because it puts humanity into a more human universe. We fit; we are not freaks. What we are, everything else also is, though in different ways and different degrees. We are, to use the medieval image, a microcosm, a little cosmos; the universe is the macrocosm, the same pattern written large. We are more like little fish inside bigger fish than like sardines in a can. It is the machine-universe that is our projection, not the human universe.

We do not have time here to apply this idea, so pregnant with consequences, to other aspects of our being, to talk about the cosmic extension of consciousness and volition, but many philosophers have argued for this conclusion, and a deeper eye than reason's seems to insist on it. But we can apply it to sexuality here. It means that sexuality goes all the way up and all the way down the cosmic ladder.
At the "down" end there is "love among the particles": gravitational and electromagnetic attraction. That little electron just "knows" the difference between the proton, which she "loves", and another electron, which is her rival. If she did not know the difference, she would not behave so knowingly, orbiting around her proton and repelling other electrons, never vice versa.

But, you say, I thought that was because of the balanced resultant of the two merely physical forces of angular momentum, which tends to zoom her straight out of orbit, and bipolar electromagnetic attraction, which tends to zap her down into her proton: too much zoom for a zap and too much zap for a zoom. Quite right. But what right do you have to call physical forces "mere"? And how do you account for the second of those two forces? Why is there attraction between positive and negative charges? It is exactly as mysterious as love. In fact, it is love. The scientist can tell you how it works, but only the lover knows why.

Sex at the Top

Sex "goes all the way up" as well as "all the way down". Spirit is no less sexual than matter; on the contrary, all qualities and all contrasts are richer, sharper, more real as we rise closer and closer to the archetype of realness, God. The God of the Bible is not a monistic pudding in which differences are reduced to lumps, or a light that out-dazzles all finite lights and colors. God is a sexual being, the most sexual of all beings.

This sounds shocking to people only if they see sex only as physical and not spiritual, or if they are Unitarians rather than Trinitarians. The love relationship between the Father and the Son within the Trinity, the relationship from which the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds, is a sexual relationship. It is like the human sexual relationship from which a child proceeds in time; or rather, that relationship is like the divine one. Sexuality is "the image of God" according to Scripture (see Genesis 1:27), and for B to be an image of A, A must in some way have all the qualities imaged by B. God therefore is a sexual being. There is therefore sex in Heaven because in Heaven we are close to the source of all sex. As we climb Jacob's ladder the angels look less like neutered, greeting-card cherubs and more like Mars and Venus.

Another reason we are more, not less, sexual in Heaven is that all earthly perversions of true sexuality are overcome, especially the master perversion, selfishness. To make self God, to desire selfish pleasure as the summum bonum, is not only to miss God but to miss pleasure and self as well, and to miss the glory and joy of sex. Jesus did not merely say, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God", but also added that "all these things shall be added" when we put first things first. Each story fits better when the foundation is put first.

C. S. Lewis calls this the principle of "first and second things". In any area of life, putting second things first loses not only the first things but also the second things, and putting first things first gains not only the first things but the second things as well. So to treat sexual pleasure as God is to miss not only God but sexual pleasure too.

The highest pleasure always comes in self-forgetfulness. Self always spoils its own pleasure. Pleasure is like light; if you grab at it, you miss it; if you try to bottle it, you get only darkness; if you let it pass, you catch the glory. The self has a built-in, God-imaging design of self-fulfillment by self-forgetfulness, pleasure through unselfishness, ecstasy by ekstasis, "standing-outside-the-self". This is not the self-conscious self-sacrifice of the do-gooder but the spontaneous, unconscious generosity of the lover.

This principle, that the greatest pleasure is self-giving, is graphically illustrated by sexual intercourse and by the very structure of the sexual organs, which must give themselves to each other in order to be fulfilled. In Heaven, when egotistic perversions are totally eliminated, all pleasure is increased, including sexual pleasure. Whether this includes physical sexual pleasure or not, remains to be seen.

Application of the Principles: Sex in Heaven

In the most important and obvious sense there is certainly sex in Heaven simply because there are human beings in Heaven. As we have seen, sexuality, like race and unlike clothes, is an essential aspect of our identity, spiritual as well as physical. Even if sex were not spiritual, there would be sex in Heaven because of the resurrection of the body. The body is not a mistake to be unmade or a prison cell to be freed from, but a divine work of art designed to show forth the soul as the soul is to show forth God, in splendor and glory and overflow of generous superfluity.

But is there sexual intercourse in Heaven? If we have bodily sex organs, what do we use them for there?

Not baby-making. Earth is the breeding colony; Heaven is the homeland.

Not marriage. Christ's words to the Sadducees are quite clear about that. It is in regard to marriage that we are "like the angels". (Note that it is not said that we are like the angels in any other ways, such as lacking physical bodies.)

Might there be another function in which baby-making and marriage are swallowed up and transformed, aufgehoben? Everything on earth is analogous to something in Heaven. Heaven neither simply removes nor simply continues earthly things. If we apply this principle to sexual intercourse, we get the conclusion that intercourse on earth is a shadow or symbol of intercourse in Heaven. Could we speculate about what that could be?

It could certainly be spiritual intercourse—and, remember, that includes sexual intercourse because sex is spiritual. This spiritual intercourse would mean something more specific than universal charity. It would be special communion with the sexually complementary; something a man can have only with a woman and a woman only with a man. We are made complete by such union: "It is not good that the man should be alone." And God does not simply rip up His design for human fulfillment. The relationship need not be confined to one in Heaven. Monogamy is for earth. On earth, our bodies are private. In Heaven, we share each other's secrets without shame, and voluntarily. In the Communion of Saints, promiscuity of spirit is a virtue.

The relationship may not extend to all persons of the opposite sex, at least not in the same way or degree. If it did extend to all, it would treat each differently simply because each is different—sexually as well as in other ways. I think there must be some special "kindred souls" in Heaven that we are designed to feel a special sexual love for. That would be the Heavenly solution to the earthly riddle of why in the world John falls for Mary, of all people, and not for Jane, and why romantic lovers feel their love is fated, "in the stars", "made in Heaven".

But this would differ from romantic love on earth in that it would be free, not driven; from soul to body, not from body to soul. Nor would it feel apart from or opposed to the God-relationship, but a part of it or a consequence of it: His design, the wave of His baton. It would also be totally unselfconscious and unselfish: the ethical goodness of agape joined to the passion of eros; agape without external, abstract law and duty, and eros without selfishness or animal drives.

But would it ever take the form of physical sexual intercourse? We should explore this question, not to kowtow to modernity's sexual monomania but because it is an honest question about something of great significance to us now, and because we simply want to know all we can about Heaven.

Since there are bodies in Heaven, able to eat and be touched, like Christ's resurrection body, there is the possibility of physical intercourse. But why might the possibility be actualized? What are its possible purposes and meanings?

We know Heaven by earthly clues. Let us try to read all the clues in earthly intercourse. It has three levels of meaning: the subhuman, or animal; the superhuman, or divine; and the specifically human. (All three levels exist in us humans.)

Animal reasons for intercourse include (i) the conscious drive for pleasure and (2) the unconscious drive to perpetuate the species. Both would be absent in Heaven. For although there are unimaginably great pleasures in Heaven, we are not driven by them. And the species is complete in eternity: no need for breeding.

Transhuman reasons for intercourse include (i) idolatrous love of the beloved as a substitute for God and (2) the Dante-Beatrice love of the beloved as an image of God. As to the first, there is, of course, no idolatry in Heaven. No substitutes for God are even tempting when God Himself is present. As to the second, the earthly beloved was a window to God, a mirror reflecting the divine beauty. That is why the lover was so smitten. Now that the reality is present, why stare at the mirror? The impulse to adore has found its perfect object. Furthermore, even on earth this love leads not to intercourse but to infatuation. Dante neither desired nor enacted intercourse with Beatrice.

Specifically human reasons for intercourse include (1) consummating a monogamous marriage and (2) the desire to express personal love. As to the first, there is no marriage in Heaven. But what of the second?

I think there will probably be millions of more adequate ways to express love than the clumsy ecstasy of fitting two bodies together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Even the most satisfying earthly intercourse between spouses cannot perfectly express all their love. If the possibility of intercourse in Heaven is not actualized, it is only for the same reason earthly lovers do not eat candy during intercourse: there is something much better to do. The question of intercourse in Heaven is like the child's question whether you can eat candy during intercourse: a funny question only from the adult's point of view. Candy is one of children's greatest pleasures; how can they conceive a pleasure so intense that it renders candy irrelevant? Only if you know both can you compare two things, and all those who have tasted both the delights of physical intercourse with the earthly beloved and the delights of spiritual intercourse with God testify that there is simply no comparison.

A Heavenly Reading of the Earthly Riddle of Sex

This spiritual intercourse with God is the ecstasy hinted at in all earthly intercourse, physical or spiritual. It is the ultimate reason why sexual passion is so strong, so different from other passions, so heavy with suggestions of profound meanings that just elude our grasp. No mere practical needs account for it. No mere animal drive explains it. No animal falls in love, writes profound romantic poetry, or sees sex as a symbol of the ultimate meaning of life because no animal is made in the image of God. Human sexuality is that image, and human sexuality is a foretaste of that self-giving, that losing and finding the self, that oneness-in-manyness that is the heart of the life and joy of the Trinity. That is what we long for; that is why we tremble to stand outside ourselves in the other, to give our whole selves, body and soul: because we are images of God the sexual being. We love the other sex because God loves God.

And this earthly love is so passionate because Heaven is full of passion, of energy and dynamism. We correctly deny that God has passions in the passive sense, being moved, driven, or conditioned by them, as we are. But to think of the love that made the worlds, the love that became human, suffered alienation from itself and died to save us rebels, the love that gleams through the fanatic joy of Jesus' obedience to the will of His Father and that shines in the eyes and lives of the saints—to think of this love as any less passionate than our temporary and conditioned passions "is a most disastrous
fantasy". And that consuming fire of love is our destined Husband, according to His own promise.

Sex in Heaven? Indeed, and no pale, abstract, merely mental shadow of it either. Earthly sex is the shadow, and our lives are a process of thickening so that we can share in the substance, becoming Heavenly fire so that we can endure and rejoice in the Heavenly fire.