Wednesday, May 20, 2015

In defense of cultural religion

I wrote this in one of the comboxes at the American Conservative website. Also, take this link to an oustanding article on religion and working class America:

Moral Therapeutic Deism (MTD) is huge because it’s what most people want and it is easier from the Evangelical churches to give it to them than more tradition and rule-bound Catholic Church can (or even the Orthodox). Are you not the least-bit curious to the fact that the religions which best hold its membership in modern times in the U.S. (Evangelicals and Mormons) are the exact same ones that are uniquely American creations compared to the traditional Protestant and Catholic religions?

People throw out the world “Evangelical” all the time and I agree the term is useless when some wish to describe it to certain political views. It’s more a style of religion that is less concerned about tradition and rules and more about the emotive and the personal and yes, the simple. And it’s very flexible and can fit into whatever you wish it to be for yourself, the most individualist of nations. For nation founded in the rejection of aristocracy and high churchism, it is not surprising a religion that is the least hierarchal and the least institutionalized would be the most popular among American Christians? Many may not like this but once again they seem to keep forgetting they live in the “Good Old US of A” and keep forgetting or don’t realize the affect it has on religious development. Ask yourself why you don’t see the same kind of loose style of Christianity in Western Europe with the same kind of institutional problems? Over there, the “nones” are the ones that dominate.

If the current trends remain unaltered as stated in the article, then what you are going to have is an even more polarized society than now largely between the secular and the Evangelical and the rest trampled on in the middle between the two. But I would think that many would agree it is the Evangelical church which would have the easiest time accommodating itself to the secular society given its less structured form. Again, it may well be MTD but if one’s tax exemption is at stake for the big, expensive megachurch, then it will carry on unassumingly and for those who no desire to fight “culture wars” it will simply drop the subject. This may disappoint those who, like Leftist radical saw the workers, on the Right who see churchgoers as the new proletariat put their intellectual theories into practice. But a generation of such leaders and followers is passing and what is coming up is not interested in cutting itself off from the broader society into Benedictine ghettos because it lives and breathes off the society as it exists today. As people have noted, you break down ethnic neighborhoods and local economies, you’re going to have wrecked churches left in its wake and people seeking spiritual comfort wherever they can find it (Tim Pawlenty and I would imagine John Kasich are the best example of this). Ergo, Catholic to Evangelical.

For all those criticizing “Cultural Catholics” just remember that Mormonism is a culture too, is much as it is a religion, and culture is what makes religion as much as what one believes in the Bible. It’s much easier for a cultural Catholic to go back to church if they have fallen away but haven’t found a new religion because they know what to expect. What may be routine to you and what seem “sacrament factory” to others is just simply a way of life, a structure to anarchic world. Is that so bad? When your charismatic pastor to your mega-church in the exurbs dies and his successor if that isn’t quite as “colorful” or has different ideas, then what? There’s something solid about knowing what has been is always still there even if you’re not around as much as you once were. Those attacking “ethnic churches” (especially on the Orthodox side where those churches are the bulwarks of those communities) ask yourself how the process of creating a uniquely American Orthodox church without any kind of foreign influence is going?

I understand the frustrations of those Catholics tired of all the liturgical tinkering. The Novus Ordos mass works well and beautiful in its simple form too but such simplicity unfortunately worked against it when certain pastors wanted to be “with it” to evangelicalize. You can’t have bongo drums and guitars in a Latin Mass, it’s impossible. But the problems with the Catholic Church go a lot deeper than just Mass style, wouldn’t you all agree? An establishment church torn by scandal, divided between the pious and the those seeking to accommodate for themselves, between the political and the apolitical, between the rule-bound and those hoping for a breakthrough spiritually, is a church which isn’t in a very strong position in the United States right now and will probably take generations to recover itself even if there are fewer members (although I believe immigration levels, especially from Africa and Asia will keep itself numbers up more than perhaps people believe).

All I know is this: if Joe Biden says his rosary a lot more than I do, then I’m not going to view one’s faith based on their political positions. If that makes me “cultural” so be it. I’m a Catholic first before I am a “conservative.”

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Double Losers

Ta-Neishi Coates, one of the best writers around, has written "Violence does work" which in many cases throughout history is true. However, I think even he would agree violence is more effectively used by those with the power to shape such violence in the manner they wish to choose. This is true in both what violence hopes and the narrative in which it is justified. Those without power can use violence too, but wind up double losers in the process.

The first loss of course is the grievance in which violence arises. The rioters of Baltimore may well have had a good argument to make against abuse by the police force which their taxes (sales or otherwise) support, but said argument is simply negated by destruction of property and theft. Whatever they had to say was lost in the general revulsion to hooliganism (although if you are going to riot make sure you're not trying to make a political point. People seem to be more accepting of sports riots or even riots at the Keene, NH. Pumpkin Fest, for example).

The second loss comes in the aftermath. If  violence does have an effect if highlighting grievance, and even if some good comes from it, the damage and scars which come from it take a lot longer to heal. There are probably communities which probably still haven't recovered from the riots of 1960s let alone what may come in Ferguson, Missouri or West Baltimore. As was the case in Detroit, the result violence may have resulted in the transfer of political power from one community to another but only at the cost in human and capital flight leaving those left almost nothing to work with. What justice is obtained becomes ashes as the years.

To give a good example in American history, go back to Shays Rebellion of 1786-87 when debt-ridden western Massachusetts farmers rose up against the state government. The rebellion was put down but one would have hoped their grievances would at least be given consideration. Some of them were (taxes were reduced and there was a moratorium put on debt collections. But the upshot of the rebellion was a U.S. Constitution approved and ratified which created a bigger, more powerful government than the Anti-Federalists would have dreamt possible and the establishment of that day closed ranks (the rebellion prompted Washington to come out of retirement and chair the Constitutional Convention) to create a government to deal with future Shaysites. Again violence by the less powerful led to a double-loss. Perhaps its why the Gandhis and Martin Luther Kings of the world thought non-violence not just morally superior but better tactically too.

Candian politics - Activate!

Once upon a time I was very much interested and fascinated by the politics of Canada. But after about 2011, with the Tories firmly ensconced in power and the Quebec independence movement pretty much over with, I had lost interest even with an election coming up in the fall. Boy Trudeau vs. Stephen Harper? Wake me when it's over.

 But then a strange thing happened yesterday which made me take notice again. Alberta, ruled for so many years by the Progressive Conservative Party, had a change of government. Not to a new PC leader, but to an entirely new party. In fact, the most unlikely party of all, the left-wing New Democrats. The NDP ruling the most Republican part of Canada, do I hear the sound of hell freezing over? Indeed it did. For the first time since 1971, a party other than the Tories will rule Alberta. And it won't be a minority government either. NDP has a solid majority of the Legislative Assembly with 54 seats. The PC's have been reduced to a mere 10. They're not even the official opposition. The right-wing Wildrose Party moves into that slot with 21 seats.

 A combination of low oil prices, the corruption of one-party rule and a PC government which raised taxes doomed them from the outset of the snap election. Certainly the idea of another party supplanting the PC's wasn't unheard of but most figured it would be Wildrose and certainly not the NDP doing so. But like a lot of Right parties, Wildrose has been unstable from its beginnings (before the election 11 of its members defected to the PCs) and conservatives have to fact a hard truth: Alberta has changed. Sure, many usual PC voters, disgusted with the party, probably voted NDP just to throw the current gang out. But the prosperity of the oil sands boom over the last decade brought in a lot of people who weren't around in 1971 when the PC took advantage of a dying Social Credit movement and became the populist party province against the hated Liberals of the East (who won exactly one seat in the election). And it's brought in a more diverse population as well, which also led to the NDP's rise. to power.

Of course, this isn't the end of the tale either. The province is dangerously polarized like never before. Wildrose dominates the rural areas, the NDP controls the cities like Calgary and Edmonton. Does the NDP lean towards environmentalism in regards to the oil sands or to the workers there and their jobs, remembering its roots as an industrial union party? Will this divide them and create further instability? Will an NPD government create such a backlash that a more ideological PC Party is reborn in the ashes (especially with Wildrose as a competitor for the same votes?) just like in Ontario in the mid to late 1990s? Will an NDP party with no governing experience be able to control a province with MLAs who, as one put it "look like they lost their university student government elections?" Will Wildrose be able to expand its base into the Calgary and Edmonton suburbs or just be another rural protest party, destined to suffer the same fate as many such parties? Whatever happens, things sure got interesting again up North.

Examples in sovereignty

The only poll results that seemed to be accurate in the recent elections in the United Kingdom was the Scottish National Party (SNP) was going to win big and boy did they ever. The SNP took 56 of the 59 seats at stake and came within an eyelash of winning 58 out of 59. With this result, many assume independence for Scotland could be well around the corner, even though the referendum for independence lost by a 55-45 margin. However, just because the Scottish did so well, one shouldn't assume anything when it comes to the future in politics because what may happen in Scotland and the UK could be the very same thing as what happened to Canadian politics at the turn of the century.

The Liberals dominated much of the 1990s in Canada because the Tories were torn to pieces and the Bloc Quebecois controlled Quebec (in fact they were the official opposition from 1993-1997). After 2001, the Tories came together again as the CPC and managed to block the Grits but neither side could take power again because the Bloc removed between 45-55 Quebec seats off the table and neither side wanted to do business with the Bloc to legitimize it.

The Bloc failed largely because the dream of independence vaporized after 1995 (which was an even closer margin than the Scottish referendum). There are many reasons for this but ultimately what happened is many Quebecois (especially the younger generations) realized independence was never going to happen and decided they were going to play a role in national politics instead of just sitting on the sidelines so they voted en masse for the NDP. Will the same happen again this fall? We don’t know, but what we do know is the Bloc ain’t coming back.

This could easily happen to the SNP as well. While not every SNP supporter favors independence, its activist wing does and they have to be catered too and cultivated. But that puts pressure on the SNP to hold another referendum soon. The SNP is no position to do that right now and they know it. But it’s this tension that I believe is going to pull at the Scottish Nats for some time to come, just as it did in Quebec.
Perhaps the biggest difference even though the Bloc and the PQ were the biggest parties in Quebec at the time, there was still a strong Liberal Party opposition that was pro-union that proved to be a break on their efforts. Right now in Scotland, the major British parties are a joke. Only utter mismanagement by the SNP would bring them back. Not to mention the fact the SNP has young faces representing them like the 20-year old who won a Parliamentary seat. Quebec nationalism was largely the movement of a single generation (Baby Boomers) and failed to progress beyond it and to French speaking immigrant groups as well.