The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Long Awaited Day Has Come At Last!

The day many of us have been awaiting for a long time has finally arrived. On Wednesday, June 26th, Bill C-304 passed its third reading in the Canadian Senate. Having cleared the Senate, all the bill needed to become the law of the land was Royal Assent, which it received later that evening, when it was signed by Governor General David Johnston, the representative of Her Majesty Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada.

Bill C-304 is a private members bill introduced into Parliament in September of 2011 by Brian Storseth, Conservative MP for Westlock-St. Paul, Alberta. The bill’s actual title is “An Act to Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act (Protecting Freedom).”

It contains six provisions. The key provision is the second which states “Section 13 of the Act is repealed”. The first, third, fourth, and fifth provisions of the bill amend other parts of the CHRA to remove all references to Section 13. The sixth provision states that the provisions of the bill will come into effect one year after it receives Royal Assent.

Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act is the notorious and infamous “hate speech” law. When Parliament first passed the Canadian Human Rights Act in 1977 it read:

It is a discriminatory practice for a person or a group of persons acting in concert to communicate telephonically or to cause to be so communicated, repeatedly, in whole or in part by means of the facilities of a telecommunication undertaking within the legislative authority of Parliament, any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.

This later became subsection 1, when Section 13 was amended in 2001 to include subsection 2, which reads:

For greater certainty, subsection (1) applies in respect of a matter that is communicated by means of a computer or a group of interconnected or related computers, including the Internet, or any similar means of communication, but does not apply in respect of a matter that is communicated in whole or in part by means of the facilities of a broadcasting undertaking.

Bill C-304 passed its third reading in the House of Commons early last June.It had its first reading in the Senate on June 7th of last year and there it sat for over a year until it had its second reading on June 20th of this year. After the second reading the Senate referred the bill to a Committee which presented its findings shortly before the Senate heard the bill for the third time and passed it.

This is great news for Canada. It means that as of June 26th, 2014, Section 13 will no longer be part of the Canadian Human Rights Act. I am not sure exactly why it was thought necessary to include a one year delay in the bill taking effect. It hardly seems logical that a bill designed to abolish an unnecessary law that has been exceedingly abused would extend to the agency guilty of that abuse an opportunity for one last kick at the cat. Government, however, is seldom logical and we have reason to rejoice that, despite the temporary delay, the final death of Section 13 is assured. This Dominion Day we can sing with extra gusto the final word in the verse of our national anthem that describes our country as “the True North strong and free”.

For many in our great Dominion, the reality of the extent to which our traditional freedoms had gradually been eroded over the last four decades did not become clear until 2006 when Ezra Levant, publisher of the Western Standard, re-published the Mohammed cartoons that had stirred up so much controversy overseas when they were first published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. A couple of organizations, the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada and the Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities, filed a complaint against Levant and his magazine before the Alberta Human Rights Commission.The complaint was made, not under Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, but under Alberta’s provincial equivalent.

That, by the way, is a reminder to us that the work of turning back the clock on progressive thought control is not completed with the abolition of Section 13. Each province has its own provincial equivalent and freedom will not be fully restored to our Dominion until each of these are struck down as well.

About the same time that the complaint was made against Levant, the Canadian Islamic Congress filed complaints with the Ontario, BC, and Canadian Human Rights Commissions against MacLean’s magazine and author Mark Steyn. The complaint regarded an excerpt from Steyn’s book America Alone that had been reprinted in MacLean’s under the title “The Future Belongs to Islam”. The complaint was that the article was hate speech that discriminated against Muslims as a group.

These were high profile cases that involved two widely read magazines. This brought greater exposure to the precarious state into which freedom of speech had fallen in our country. As they defended themselves in their own human rights/freedom of speech cases, Levant and Steyn brought another case to the public’s attention, one which otherwise might have attracted very little attention, the case of Warman v. Lemire.

Marc Lemire was the webmaster of Freedom-Site and a complaint had been made against him, under Section 13, by Richard Warman, the lawyer formerly employed by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, who has filed the bulk of the Section 13 complaints over the last decade. The complaint pertained to posts that had been made – by others – on the Freedom-Site’s internet bulletin board. Lemire, in addition to defending himself and his site against this complaint, filed a constitutional challenge against Sections 13 and 54 of the Canadian Human Rights Act (Section 54 is also amended by Bill C-304 to remove the elements which were problematic).

Over the course of Warman v. Lemire much material was revealed about the way in which Section 13 cases were started, investigated, and handled that cast the Canadian Human Rights Commission in a rather unflattering light. In 2009, Athanasios Hadjis, a member of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, dismissed most of the charges against Lemire and refused to pass sentence on the remaining charge, ruling that Section 13 was unconstitutional. This subsequently went into appeal and Lemire’s constitutional challenge was put on hold pending Parliament’s decision on Bill C-304 – which has now rendered the challenge moot.

These cases received wider discussion in the media than previous hate/free speech cases, due to the involvement of high profile figures like Levant and Steyn. They also received wider exposure because the development of the internet and of political blogging had created a way for people to get around self-imposed mainstream media blackouts. It also added a new dimension to the legal battle over freedom of speech.

As previously mentioned, in Warman v. Lemire much material had come to light that was unflattering to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. That same material was also unflattering to the plaintiff, himself. In early 2008, he launched a defamation suit against the National Post over an article that made reference to testimony from Warman v. Lemire that suggested that Warman himself was the author of one of the contested posts on Freedom-Site, one that contained some rather rude remarks about a female Canadian Senator. Warman also named as co-defendants the author of the article, Jonathan Kay, bloggers who had made reference to the article such as Kathy Shaidle (Five Feet of Fury) and Kate McMillan (Small Dead Animals), and Mark and Connie Fournier, the founders and administrators of the small-c conservative message board Free Dominion.

This was not the first time Warman had launched a defamation suit against his opponents. He had sued British author David Icke in the early 2000’s over remarks Icke had made about him in one of his books. Icke is a New Age, environmentalist, type who specializes in conspiracy theories about reptillian shape-shifters from outer space. Nevertheless he was justifiably unimpressed when he was accused of anti-semitism in the late 1990s, which accusations became part of the basis for a campaign to have his speaking tour of Canada cancelled and his books removed from Canadian bookstores and libraries. Warman’s involvement in that campaign was the reason for the remarks which were the basis of the lawsuit. In 2007, Warman sued Paul Fromm, director of the Canadian Association for Free Expression for libel over remarks he had made about Warman on the internet.

Warman launched multiple lawsuits against Mark and Connie Fournier of Free Dominion.In addition to the National Post lawsuit previously mentioned, he also filed another defamation suit against the Fourniers and eight members of Free Dominion over remarks they had made about him. Since the eight members posted under internet pseudonyms, they were named as “John Does” in the suit. The lawsuit therefore centred around the issue of the right to anonymity on the internet. After the National Post and Jonathan Kay settled with Warman, he became the owner of the article in question, and then sued the Fourniers over copyright infraction for reposting the article on their site!

I have encountered people who appear to believe that this is a legitimate use of the court system. I do not. In my opinion it is a shameful abuse of the legal process and it is a disgrace that the courts allow this to go on. Now that Section 13 has been taken care of, badly needed reform of Canada’s defamation laws would be an excellent next step to consider in securing and protecting the rights of Canadians to freely express their thoughts and opinions.

The passing of Bill C-304 is a significant victory for those who have been fighting to restore freedom of speech to the Dominion of Canada. The events referred to above only cover the last few years of what has been a very long battle. The Canadian Human Rights Act with its Section 13 was signed into law in 1977. I was one year old at the time. In the 1980s, when I was growing up, freedom of speech and what, if any, legitimate limitations on it ought to exist, was a matter of public discussion.

The discussion centered around two high profile cases, neither of which, interestingly, was a Section 13 case. Ernst Zundel, a Toronto graphic artist who also published pamphlets that argued that only thousands rather than six million Jews died in World War II and that the deaths were not part of an orchestrated plot of genocide on the part of the Third Reich but a consequence of the realities of war, was charged with “spreading false news” twice under a law that was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada. James Keegstra, a high school teacher and at the time mayor of Eckville, Alberta was charged with spreading hate for teaching his history class that the Jews were behind a global conspiracy against Christianity. The law he was charged under was the hate speech provision which had been added to the Criminal Code by the Trudeau government a few years prior to the Canadian Human Rights Act. In fact, Section 13 had been added to the Canadian Human Rights Act because it was considered too difficult to obtain a conviction under the Criminal Code where the prosecutor was required to meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The Crown managed to do so in the Keegstra case.

These two cases were widely discussed in the news and in the classroom.After that the mainstream media went curiously silent on the subject of freedom of speech until the Levant and Steyn cases. There were a few exceptions. One or two writers in the Sun newspaper chain occasionally discussed a freedom of speech case. Doug Collins of the North Shore News reported on the decay of freedom of speech, and was eventually himself brought before the BC Human Rights Commission on charges of “hate speech” by Harry Abrams of the Binai B’rith. The Report newsmagazines (Alberta, Western, BC) of the Byfield family had a number of writers and editors, such as Kevin Michael Grace, who faithfully reported on these matters. Very few others would do so.

There was a reason for this. Collins, Grace, the Byfields, and virtually everyone else who defended freedom of speech against “hate speech” laws, including the late Doug Christie, the founder of the Canadian Free Speech League and the lawyer for both Zundel and Keegstra, were accused of being racists.

Former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, in a speech given early in the Trudeau premiership, later published in the book Those Things We Treasure, recalled an earlier time of more civil discussion when one could disagree with the Prime Minister without being accused of prejudice. By the time Peter Brimelow wrote his book about American immigration, Alien Nation, in the mid 1990s, he could accurately say that the new definition of a racist was “someone who was winning an argument with a liberal”. Liberals, capitalizing on the disgust generated by the revelation of the horrors of WWII, had turned “racist” into a powerful weapon, an epithet that could ruin a person’s reputation, career, and life. It was a weapon they did not hesitate to use against their enemies.

Ironically, the pet projects with liberals used that weapon to protect, were themselves racist projects. This was not immediately recognizable because the targets of the racist projects were white people.

Think about it. If you were to say that your community or your country is “too black” or “too Asian” or “too fill-in-the-blank-with-any-race-but-white” you would be immediately denounced as a racist. The denunciation would be even more immediate and severe if you proposed doing something about it. The same, however, is not true of people who say that their community or country is “too white”. Indeed, such people are lauded for saying this sort of thing. This makes no sense from an ethical perspective. If racism is wrong, and racism is prejudice against people because of their race, then it is as wrong when it is directed against white people as when it is directed against any other group of people. If thinking that a community is “too black” is racist, then thinking that it is “too white” is also racist.

Yet the idea that our country is “too white” is recognizably the idea behind the liberal policies pertaining to race, culture, and immigration that have been enacted since the 1960s. When liberals talk about promoting diversity they never mean making black communities less black, or aboriginal communities less aboriginal, and they certainly never mean making any kind of non-white community more white. “Diversity” is clearly a euphemism for “less white”.

An objection might be raised to this reasoning in that most liberals are themselves white. All that proves, however, is the truth of Robert Frost’s observation that a liberal is someone “who is too polite to take his own side in a quarrel”.

Liberalism’s accusations of racism against those who dissent from its policies of self-hatred – or those who recognize and dare to point out that its policies are racist against white people – is a self-defense mechanism that has proven remarkably effective. It by itself has protected against criticism many policies that would not be able to withstand scrutiny. For the longest time our insane policy concerning “hate speech” was one of those policies.

“Hate speech” as defined by laws like Section 13 is not necessarily speech that expresses actual hatred. Statements like “I hate you”, “I despise you”, “I utterly detest and loathe you” and “I curse the day you were born” simply do not fall under the category of “hate speech”. Yet expressing the view that significantly less than six million Jews died in the Nazi concentration camps in World War II, which is an opinion about historical facts, albeit an unusual and perhaps nutty one, apparently does.

Clearly “hate speech” laws are not about hatred in any literal sense of the world. “Hate speech” laws, like all anti-discrimination laws, are based upon anti-white racism. When anti-discrimination laws were first introduced there was growing opposition to laws that were themselves discriminatory. The basis of this opposition was the idea that the law should be the same for all citizens, a modern version of the ancient concept represented by justice wearing a blindfold. It is one thing, however, for government to strike down laws that favour one group of citizens over another, and declare that it will administer the law justly. It is another thing altogether, for government to pass a law prohibiting its citizens from discriminating against each other. Not only are such laws unduly intrusive into the personal thoughts and feelings of citizens, history has demonstrated that such laws cannot themselves be administered justly. Laws which prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, for example, are enforced against white people who are accused of discriminating against other kinds of people. They are seldom, if ever, enforced against people who discriminate against white people.

This is glaringly obvious in the case of “hate speech” laws. Countless examples could be given of speech, directed against white people, which is actually hateful and even violent, which has never caused those uttering it to be charged with “hate speech”. The defendants are almost always white, the only time anyone else is charged is when his “hate speech” is directed against a group that enjoys a greater degree of protection than his own. The justification given for this unjust administration of the law is that the law exists to “protect vulnerable minorities”. This, however, is merely a euphemism for “the law applies to one group differently than it applies to another”.

Thankfully, the government has finally done the right thing and abolished the abhorrent Section 13. Let us pray that the rest of the racist, anti-white, liberal house of cards, will come crashing down after it.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Fatherhood versus Feminism

Children of both sexes need both a father and a mother. I do not mean that a child will die if deprived of either parent, the way a person will die if deprived of air, water or sustenance. I mean that the most important lessons a child must learn on the path to adulthood are not those taught in schools or, heaven forbid, by peers or television, but rather those which they can only be taught by their parents. Some of these lessons can only be taught by a mother. Others can only be taught by a father. Some of the lessons a mother teaches are learned by children of both sexes alike, and this is true of the lessons a father teaches as well. There are other lessons which only a mother can teach a daughter, and only a father can teach a son, just as there are lessons which a daughter must learn from a father and a son from a mother.

It is from a father that a son learns how to be a man, a husband, and a father, partly by instruction, but mostly by seeing these things modelled in his own father. Similarly it is from a mother that a daughter learns how to be a woman, a wife, and a mother. It is from their parent of the opposite sex that children learn about the sex other than their own, form their basic image of that other sex, and learn how to love, respect, and relate to members of that other sex. This process may go wrong, and they may develop a badly skewed image of and way of relating to the opposite sex based upon a bad relationship with their own father/mother, but it is almost certain that it will go wrong in the complete absence of a parent of the opposite sex.

What I have just pointed out has been obvious to everyone since the dawn of time. It is controversial to say it, however, in this day and age. There are many progressives who would like to see people who point out this sort of thing thrown in jail. They consider it to be hate speech. It is generally the sort of things that have been true and obvious since the beginning of time that are considered to be hate speech by progressives.

So what do progressives have against this particular set of true and obvious observations?

What they object to is the truth that in the upbringing of children of either sex there is no substitute for either a father or a mother. This truth contradicts one of their beloved fantasies – the idea that you can substitute two women, two men, the State, or practically anything you want, for a father and mother, without having any adverse effect upon the children This fantasy is the basis of a number of progressive stances including their idea that homosexual couples have an inalienable, natural right to adopt children and that it is oppression far worse than anything and everything dreamed up by Pharaoh, Herod, Caligula, Nero, Genghis Khan, Atilla the Hun, Vlad the Impaler, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Idi Amin, to deny them this right.

That, however, is not the issue I wish to discuss here and I mention it mostly to poke fun at the absolute inanity of the ridiculous things progressives get uptight over.

Let us return to the point we started with: all children need both a father and a mother. There have always been children who have had to grow up without one or the other due to unavoidable circumstances, such as the death of a parent. These are situations that families, hopefully with the support of extended kin and community, have to deal with as best as they can. Today, however, there are a large number of children who have to grow up without one of their parents because that parent has either chosen to abandon the duties of parenthood or has been prevented from fulfilling those duties by the other parent. In the largest number of these cases the absent parent is the father.

This is a major social problem. This trend can be found among all classes of society and in every class it hurts the children affected but it is even more devastating among the poorer classes where it is a significant contributing factor to multi-generational poverty.

Usually when this problem is recognized and attempts are made to deal with it the focus is upon the fathers who have voluntarily abandoned their duties. While this part of the problem does deserve attention it is not what I wish to focus on here. Rather I wish to address the other part of the problem, fathers who are prevented fulfilling their duties as fathers, by the mothers of their children.

As with so many other problems that beset us in this day of rampant egalitarianism, triumphant liberalism, and social and moral collapse, when we go looking for the root cause we find the ideological movement known as feminism.

Feminism is the ideology of the equality of the sexes. It was dreamed up in the nineteenth century by radical intellectuals such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Friedrich Engels. It helped inspire the women’s suffrage movement in the early twentieth century, but was fully translated into a movement of political and social activism after the Second World War by such colourful individuals as Simone de Beauvoir, an existentialist novelist, Betty Friedan, a Marxist journalist masquerading as a normal suburban housewife, and Gloria Steinem, whose previous career included such highlights as waiting on tables in a skimpy bunny outfit in one of Hugh Hefner’s clubs and working for a CIA front.

Feminism is the implacable enemy of motherhood, which, in turn, is the implacable enemy of feminism. Motherhood, far more than any “male power structure” or “old boys’ network”, is the major impediment to feminism achieving its dream of a world in which males and females are equally represented on every rung of every ladder – social, political, and economic. This dream is unattainable as long as women keep getting pregnant, carrying their children to term, giving birth to them, and nursing and raising them. Feminism, therefore, has done everything in its power to smash motherhood. It has promoted birth control, abortion, and the transfer of the raising of children to state institutions.

Despite all of these efforts, women are still giving birth to, loving, and raising their children. Motherhood has been battered, but it has withstood the assaults of feminism. Ironically, it is fatherhood that has taken a much heavier hit from feminism.

There is a reason for this. Feminism, in its crusade to obtain what it regarded as fair treatment for women, identified the patriarchal family as the source of all injustice towards women and set out to dismantle the laws, mores, and traditions which supported the patriarchal family. These laws, mores, and traditions, however, and the patriarchal family which they upheld, were the foundation upon which fatherhood stood.

Both fatherhood and motherhood involve much more than the mere biological production of offspring. Indeed, the biological production of offspring is not an absolutely necessary component of either. The one exception to the rule that there is no substitute for a child’s having both a father and mother is when the child is adopted from birth. The reason this is an exception is because parents who adopt children from birth are not really a substitute for a father and mother – they are a father and mother in everything except the biology. When a man and woman choose to so adopt, they decide together to accept a child born to someone else as their own and love and raise that child accordingly. When this happens each parent in the adopting couple is fully aware that they are accepting someone else’s child as there own and that their partner is doing the exact same thing.

Thus adoptive parents avoid a difficulty that can cause problems for natural parents. That difficulty is that, until the very recent development of accurate paternity tests, a mother knew with absolute certainty who her children were but a father had to depend upon the word of the mother. The fear of being cuckolded, of being tricked into raising someone else’s children, down through history has been a powerful force working against fathers accepting their duties, taking responsibility for the children they sired, and shouldering their share of the burden of raising them. That force, however, was held in check by the patriarchal family, and by the laws and traditions which supported it. This, for example, was the reason for the traditional emphasis upon the importance of virginity in a bride. It was not, as the feminists falsely averred, to create a “double standard” so that men could be promiscuous themselves while insisting on purity in their wives. By lessoning the threat of cuckoldry, this tradition promoted responsible fatherhood.

Now paternal uncertainty does not in any way benefit women, although some have been foolish enough to think of it as a weapon to use against the fathers of their children. When a father is not certain that the children he is told are his actually are he is less likely to take his responsibilities as a father seriously, and if he shirks those responsibilities this increases the burden upon the mother, a burden which is already uneven due to nature as it is. Feminism, therefore, in attacking the traditions, laws, and institutions which promote responsible fatherhood as being unfair and oppressive to women, and promoting the kind of behaviour that increases paternal uncertainty and, consequently, irresponsibility, is no friend to the women it purports to speak for.

The feminist movement also considered marriage to be an instrument of oppression for women and so it demanded the liberalization of divorce laws. It campaigned for the laws to be changed so as to greatly expand the grounds for divorce and to provide for “no-fault divorce” in which the court dissolves a marriage without assigning blame to either partner if both consent to the divorce. In each of these campaigns feminism was victorious. Divorce became much easier to obtain, marriages now had less legal protection than the average business contract, and the divorce rates went through the roof.

Once rubber-stamped divorces were readily available the courts had to deal with the problem of what to do with the children of dissolved marriages. Do they give custody to the mother, to the father, or do they split custody equally?

Now this created a dilemma for the feminist movement. If they took the position that custody of the children should be awarded to the mother they would be saying that children belong with their mother which would be tantamount to saying that mothers belong with their children, a truth upon the denial of which the entire feminist movement was built. If, on the other hand, they took the position that custody of the children should be awarded to the father, would they not be handing over the children to the big, bad, patriarchy that they had put so much time and energy into denouncing and combating?

Oh my! Given a choice like that what’s a feminist to do?

Then the feminists got an idea. An awful idea. They had a wonderful, awful, idea. (1)

The courts, the feminists said, should award custody of the children to their mothers. Mothers should have sole custody, with the absolute right to determine what contact, if any a father has with his children, and what influence, if any, he has over them. Their decision would be enforced by the courts and the police. Fathers could still contribute to the raising of their children. In fact they would be made to do so. The court would order them to hand over a sizable percentage of their paycheque to the mother of their children and they would be expected to do so regardless of whether they were allowed any contact with their children or any say in how they are raised.

What if a father could not afford to pay the amount that his ex-wife’s new sugar daddy the judge decided she was entitled to? After all, it is far bigger drain on a man’s resources to support a family he is not living with than to support one he is living with. Well now, he should have thought of that before his wife decided to divorce him, then, shouldn’t he?

It was at this point that a new stock villain was added to the “Most Wanted’ roster, i.e., the “deadbeat dad”. “Deadbeat dad” is an expression that you or I might use to refer to some irresponsible bounder who for entirely selfish reasons, at least as far as we can determine, walks out on his wife, his children, and his duties. On the tongues and lips of feminists, however, and the foolish young women who were convinced by feminism that they could exile the fathers of their children from their homes and lives, and the lives of their children while still laying claim to financial support from those men, it tended to refer to men who objected to the injustice of all of this and defaulted on the payments.

Meanwhile a new generic saint was added to the secular canon, i.e., the “single mom”, who is a rather different character from the widow or abandoned mother.

I say all of this to add some needed perspective to the discussion of fathers who shirk their duties, a discussion that is usually rather one-sided, and do not mean to suggest that the misdeeds of a mother absolve a father from his responsibility to his children or that his contribution to their upkeep should be considered a quid pro quo for the right to see and spend time with his children. Nor do I mean to suggest that things would have been better if the courts had made the awarding of full custody to fathers the default or that there have been no situations where fathers who have been awarded custody have treated the mothers of their children unjustly.

Nor has the legal situation gone unchallenged or completely unamended. Various fathers groups have challenged the system, accused it of bias and discrimination, and demanded that some type of shared custody arrangement be made the default, and the courts have shown varying degrees of sympathy to this.

There is both good and bad in this. It is good that the situation is being slowly adjusted to be less unjust. I say “less unjust” because there can never be a truly just outcome to a divorce and a custody battle. It is not so good that the mens’ or fathers’ movement has been largely organized with the same tactics and same victim mentality as feminism. The last thing we need are yet more groups crying “unfair” and accusing society of discrimination.

Shared custody may be the best way of handling custody after a divorce. That does not mean that it is the best thing for the child. Think back to our initial point. Children of both sexes need both a father and a mother. That is true, but it turns out that something was missing from this statement, so let us revise it. Children of both sexes, need both a father and a mother, who are raising their children together in mutual love and cooperation.

That is something that traditional marriage, the traditional family, and the laws and customs that supported these things could provide children. It is not something that even the fairest of shared custody arrangements can provide. If we are truly concerned about the needs of children, perhaps we need to start asking ourselves how we can make the system support the traditional arrangement again instead of working to undermine it.

Happy Fathers’ Day!

(1) My apologies to Dr. Seuss for the shameless borrowing of his words and to the Grinch for the implied comparison.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Ethics of Economics

Professor Ronald S. Dart of the University of the Frazer Valley in Abbotsford, B. C. is a traditional, Canadian Tory. So, for that matter, am I. His interpretation of the Tory tradition and mine differ in a number of ways. One way our interpretations differ is in the colour we each would assign to the tradition. I, who place much emphasis upon the monarchist element of traditional Toryism, insist that the proper colour of Toryism is royal blue. Professor Dart on the other hand prefers the colour red for his Toryism.

Do not mistake me. The expression “Red Tory” is used in two different ways, with two different meanings, in Canada and they are not interchangeable. One way the term is used is to refer to people who are members of the Conservative Party but whose ideas are indistinguishable from those of progressive liberals or the socialist Left. The other way the term is used is to refer to people whose ideas genuinely fall within the British-Canadian conservative tradition and more specifically within the interpretation of that tradition associated with the great Canadian philosopher George P. Grant. When the term is used the first way I mentioned it is as a term of derision, usually applied by those who would refer to themselves as small-c conservatives. When it is used in the second way mentioned it is proudly self-applied. The Red Toryism of Professor Dart is the second and by far the better of the two.

Toryism is a tradition that began in the United Kingdom in the seventeenth century but which draws upon the much older traditions of classical antiquity, medieval Christendom in general, and of England/Great Britain in particular. It is also an expression of an attitude that can be found in every time and place – that of preferring the known to the unknown and the tried, tested, and true to the inventive and innovative. The Tory tradition, which started with the royalists or cavaliers in the English Civil War, stood for the established constitution of Church and State, as grounded in prescription and divine authority, and for an organic view of society rather than a contractual model. When modern philosophy bore fruit in the violence and terror of the French Revolution, Edmund Burke, even though he had been a member of the opposing party in Parliament, took Tory principles and reworked them into a philosophical defence of the English constitution and Christianity against modernity. This revitalized Toryism was the first political philosophy to bear the name conservative.

The Dominion of Canada, which never violently broke continuity with the British tradition in which she was founded in the way the United States did, inherited its conservative tradition directly from Great Britain. Furthermore, the Toryism Canada inherited is a specific branch of the Tory tradition that developed in the Victorian era, the era in which Canada came together as a country in Confederation. That branch of the Tory tradition is known as One Nation Conservatism, a title derived from a phrase in the book Sybil, by Victorian Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. What distinguishes One Nation Conservatism from other forms of Toryism is its emphasis on the idea that participation in the organic whole that is the country should be of benefit to all members and levels of society and that the security of the established constitution depends upon this being the case. Thus the One Nation Conservatives supported modest social programs that would alleviate misery and prevent the dissatisfaction from developing that is the fuel of the revolutionary demagogue.

The Red Toryism of George Grant – who disliked the expression “Red Tory” – is a further interpretation of the One Nation Conservative interpretation of the High Tory tradition. While Grant is a man I highly admired and whose writings have been quite influential on my own thinking, I disagree with his contention that socialism is more conservative than capitalism, which is the main reason his version of One Nation Conservatism has been dubbed Red.

Professor Dart, who has made significant contributions of his own to this branch of the Tory tradition, has recently posted a manifesto entitled “Red Tories of Canada Unite” at the Clarion Journal to which he is a frequent contributor. I encourage you to read it as there is much in there that is of value even to those of us Tories who are not particularly “Red”. There is one section in particular that caught my attention. I will quote it in its entirety using boldface to represent what is italicized in the original:

Third, Tories do not separate ethics from economics. When the ledger of profit and loss becomes the dominant criteria we use for evaluating the wealth, health, prosperity and development of a people, we become moral cripples. The tendency to divorce ethics and economics runs contrary to the best of historic Toryism that grounds political life in the classical virtues of courage, wisdom, justice and moderation. The cleavage between the rich and poor is a natural product of elevating trade and commerce and ignoring or subordinating an ethical plumb line by which wealth is earned and distributed. Dante, for example, placed the greedy and idle rich in the lowest level of hell. We need not read too far in Leacock’s Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich or Prime Minister William Bennett’s The Premier Speaks to the People to get a solid fix and feel for how the best of Canadian Tories have viewed the clash between ethics and economics. (

It is the first sentence in this remarkable paragraph that I wish to comment on, although my comments may and probably will touch on the other sentences as well. “Third, Tories do not separate ethics from economics”. This is a statement with which I wholeheartedly agree. It is worthy of deeper reflection and I can think of no better way of beginning that reflection than by addressing three questions that arise naturally out of the statement. What is ethics? What is economics? Why should ethics and economics be inseparable? Let us think about those questions in that order before moving on to consider the implications of the inseparability of ethics and economics.

What is ethics? The term ethics comes from the Greek word for habits, manners, or patterns of behaviour, just as the term morals comes from the Latin word with a similar range of meaning. Ethics is moral philosophy, i.e., intelligent, contemplative, thought about human behaviour both as it is and as it ought to be.

Everything we human beings do we do with some end in mind. We may desire that end for it’s own sake or because it is a step towards a further end. These ends we consider to be goods and the most basic way by which we judge our actions to be good or bad is on the basis of how effectively they achieve their ends. There is often a difference, however, between the ends we actually strive after and the ends we ought to strive after. We may put all our effort into achieving a lesser good while ignoring completely a greater good. We may fail to recognize a good as a good or we may mistake as a good something that is not a good. How to distinguish a true good from a false good, a greater good from a lesser good, and the supreme good from all other goods is the subject matter of ethics.

Ethics is not just an ethereal, abstract, ivory tower discussion however. It too has an end, a good that it strives after, and that good is the formation of human character. Our actions are not carried out in isolation from each other. When we make a decision, good or bad, we increase the likelihood that we will make that same kind of decision again. We are creatures of habit, in other words, and our habits, our patterns of good and/or bad decision making, shape our character. The proper goal or good of ethics is the development of good character by the formation of habits in which we discern and choose true goods rather than false goods and value greater goods over lesser goods. These habits are called virtues and their opposites are called vices.

The introduction of ethics was the greatest contribution of the Athenian school to the Western philosophical tradition. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle began the discussion of ethics to which subsequent schools of thought would later add their own contributions. In the Christian era, ethics was fundamentally transformed. Philosophy, guided by the light of reason, could only go so. It could not bring man to the highest good, for the highest good is God. Since human reason and philosophy cannot reach God, God had to come down to man, which He did in the Incarnation of His Son Jesus Christ. Christ’s Life, Death, and Resurrection forever changed the relationship between God and man and in the Self-revelation of God, man was given three new virtues to cultivate – faith, hope, and charity or Christian love. This was beautifully illustrated by Dante in the poem Professor Dart referred to. (1) Virgil, representing natural reason, could guide Dante only so far as to the entrance to the Earthly Paradise at the peak of Mt. Purgatory. After that point Beatrice, representing divine wisdom had to take over.

Let us turn now to our second question. What is economics?

Economics is also a word that comes to us from the Greeks. It is derived from the word economy which combines the Greek words for household and law. The Greeks used this combination to refer to the management of household affairs. We still sometimes use the word economy in this way, to describe the virtue of the man who manages his affairs so as to live within his means. The ordinary use of the word economy to refer to the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services within a community, region, or country is an extrapolation from the original meaning. If you think of your community, province, or entire country as an extended household you will see how this meaning was derived. This kind of economy is properly referred to as a political economy, the affairs of the polity or commonwealth, conceived of as a large-scale household.

Economics is a modern twist on the concept of economy. Economics is an intellectual discipline that treats the kind of human activities that we would call economic because they fall under the earlier meanings of economy as the subject matter of a science. It is not a hard science, like natural sciences such as physics, biology and chemistry, but a soft science, i.e., a social or behavioural science. Whether soft or hard, however, the sciences of the modern age rest upon a number of shared assumptions – that everything we need to understand the world is available to us via our physical senses, that through empirical methodology we can convert our observations of the world into laws explaining how things work, and that we can then use the knowledge contained in those laws to obtain mastery over all we survey.

The first of those assumptions is epistemological nonsense and is arguably the root error of all modern thought. The last of those assumptions, however, has the appearance if not the substance of truth, and this is the source of the hold the sciences have had on modern man. “Look at all the wonderful things we have been able to accomplish in such a short time through science, it must surely therefore be the source of all wisdom and truth.” Even if it were the case, however, that we could obtain complete mastery over ourselves and the world through science that would not answer the question of whether or not we should do so. This question is dismissed by many in the scientific community today, as can be seen in the “because I can” justification one often encounters in debates over the moral implications of such things as stem-cell research. It is a question, however, that needs to be asked and which deserves a better answer than that. (2)

Which brings us back to ethics and to our third question, why should ethics and economics be inseparable?

The subject matter of economics is a class or category of human activity. Human beings have material needs and desires. To satisfy those needs and desires we either produce what we need and desire for ourselves, produce things that other people need or desire to exchange with them for what we need or desire, or offer services of various sorts to other people in exchange for the things we need or desire. These are the activities that are studied as economics and, like all human activities, they are subject to evaluation in terms of the questions posed by ethics.

The modern economist does not deny the claims of ethics over economics altogether. He answers those claims, however, by asserting that the science of economics, by uncovering the laws that govern the production, distribution, and consumption of material goods, will provide man with the tools needed to create material abundance for all – or at least the largest number possible - and with that material abundance will bring universal human happiness, or at least something closely akin to it. This is economics’ version of the claim made by all modern sciences. Since this is the claim of the economist regardless of whether he supports capitalism or socialism all ethical criticism of this claim applies equally to capitalism and to socialism.

There are many such criticisms to be made.

The ethics of the modern economist is utilitarian. It is based upon the idea that right action is determined by what produces the maximum amount of happiness for the largest number of people. Utilitarianism removes the qualitative element from ethical judgement and reduces it to quantitative measurement. As an ethical system this is inferior by far to those developed by classical philosophers and the theologians of Christendom.

Furthermore, it is a materialistic ethics that equates material abundance with happiness. This equation, however, is false. Economic liberalism or capitalism, the system devised by the first modern economists in the 18th Century, as it has developed to the present day has produced material abundance that would have been unimaginable in previous centuries. It has also managed to distribute this abundance widely throughout the populations of those countries that have embraced capitalism. This can be seen by everybody except those who blind themselves to it by measuring the distribution of affluence against the yardstick of absolute equality. In a sense, therefore, liberalism has fulfilled the claims of modern economics. In a larger sense, however, it has failed because this material abundance has not brought happiness with it.

Think about it. If material abundance brought happiness, why are alcoholism and drug abuse significant social problems in liberal countries? These same countries, in the period in which they saw the greatest explosion of material abundance in human history, have experienced a massive social breakdown. There has been an erosion of a sense of community, divorce rates have skyrocketed while fertility rates have plummeted. All of these problems are symptomatic of a deep and widespread unhappiness.

Capitalism’s main competitor has been socialism. Socialism was originally thought up as an alternative to capitalism by economists and political radicals in the 19th Century. According to liberal capitalist theory the road to material prosperity lay in the investment of private entrepreneurs in large scale production products carried out in a setting of freedom guided by the forces of the free market. Socialist theory taught that there would be greater material abundance which would be more fairly distributed if the means of production were publicly owned and distribution was administered for the common good by a board of intellectual experts.

Socialism was a disaster when put into practice. It had the same goal as capitalism – maximizing material abundance and distributing it to the largest number of people – but it was nowhere near as capable of accomplishing that goal as capitalism was. Worse, if neither capitalism nor socialism was capable of generating human happiness, socialism proved remarkably adept at producing the exact opposite, human misery. Everywhere it was attempted for any significant length of time it eroded human sympathy and feeling, generated mass suffering and misery, and brought about widespread spiritual and moral death.  Deducing what socialism would be like in practice, Canadian Tory Stephen Leacock declared “socialism, in other words, is slavery.”

The temptation to equate material abundance with happiness – or at least to think that the two go hand in hand – has always been with men. The ethical teachings of the great classical and Christian tradition, however, guarded against this temptation. Material goods, including such necessities as food, clothing, and shelter, are real goods, the ancient philosophers taught, i.e., things to be desired and sought, but they were among the lower goods. True happiness came through the cultivation of virtue and the pursuit of the higher goods, including the transcendental ideals of truth, beauty and goodness. Men need material goods to sustain their existence, and are drawn to these and other lower goods by the appetites of their animal nature, but these goods were to be the means and not the end of their existence. Men were called to rule their appetites rather than to be ruled by them and to make the pursuit of the higher goods the end of their existence.

That the accumulation of wealth should not be the end of our existence, the purpose for which we live, is also the teaching of the Holy Scriptures. The Book of Proverbs records the request of Agur ben Jakeh that he be given “neither poverty nor riches” so as to be spared the temptations that come with each. Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount, warned His disciples against making mammon their master and told them to lay up eternal treasures in heaven rather than fading treasures on earth. They should not worry about material things, He said, but should seek first the kingdom and righteousness of God. St. Paul, writing to the Philippians from his prison cell, told them that he had learned “in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”

Modern economics in both its capitalist and socialist forms has inverted the hierarchy of goods contained in classical and Christian teaching.

There is, of course, a lot more in the ethical teachings of the pre-modern tradition that applies to economic matters than just the idea that we are to devote our lives to the pursuit of higher goods and to make the activity by which we obtain the material necessities of life to be merely the means to that end. I have focused on this because the deviation of modern economics on this point appears to me to be its first ethical error and the source of all the others.

The Holy Scriptures repeatedly condemn the person who allows others to perish for lack of the basic necessities of life. They even more vehemently condemn the person who does more than just stand by and watch but who actively takes advantage of the vulnerability of others. The Psalms frequently express astonishment that such people seemingly prosper and are not struck from the earth. The prophetic literature is full of rebuke after rebuke of the kings of Israel and Judah for not doing their job and administering justice for the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the poor in general, upon the heads of their oppressors.

There are many forms of liberal capitalism, such as Social Darwinism and that taught by Ayn Rand, that come out looking very bad in the light of this Scriptural teaching.

That does not let the socialists off the hook, however. Socialist economic theory is built upon the idea that private property is the source of all evil, that man went wrong when he first pointed to what had previously been held in common, and distinguished between “mine” and “thine”, and that things can only be set right by returning everything to common ownership. Two of the famous Ten Commandments handed down to Israel and Mt. Sinai and reiterated at the edge of the Promised Land, however, are protections of people’s property against the designs of others, the commandment against stealing and the commandment against coveting.

There is no contradiction in the ethical teachings of the Scriptures here. In the condemnation of the indifferent onlooker, the oppressor, and the unjust ruler, the basic instruction to us is that we are to help others, to share what we have with those who are need, and basically to treat other people well and just. When the Scriptures forbid us from stealing or even coveting the property of others they are giving us the same basic instruction. To share what is ours with others when they are in need and to refrain from lusting for and taking what they have are two sides to what it means to “love thy neighbour as thyself”.

In interpreting these teachings of the Scriptures for the faithful down through the centuries the Christian Church has identified avarice and envy as being among the seven sins that are particularly deadly and to be avoided. Avarice, or greed, is not just the desire for material goods. Nor even is it just the desire for more material goods than one already has or for more material goods than one needs, for if those desires were a deadly sin then it would be a moral requirement for us to live in caves and possess nothing more than the spears we would need to kill our daily dinner. Avarice is best understood as being the polar opposite of the idea of sharing. It is the desire to possess as much as one possibly can while leaving as little as possible for others. To envy is both to covet what another has for oneself and to resent the other for what he has. Dorothy L. Sayers once remarked that “If Avarice is the sin of the Haves against the Have-Nots, Envy is the sin of the Have-Nots against the Haves.”

I think she was right in saying this and I do not think that I would be straying too far from her original meaning by making the paraphrase that avarice is the sin of capitalism, and envy the sin of socialism. I would add, however, a proviso, that while capitalism may create occasion and temptation for the sin of avarice, socialism requires and is fueled by the sin of envy. Businessmen are frequently accused of the sin of avarice and undoubtedly are frequently guilty of it as well. They are also frequently falsely accused of it and these false accusations arise out of the envy that is at the heart of socialism. A person does not have to be avaricious to be a businessman. There is nothing innately avaricious about running a business and wanting it to turn a profit. Socialism, on the other hand, could not exist apart from the sin of envy. It is its lifeblood.

Neither of the two main systems of economic organization, dreamed up by modern economists, measures up by the standards of traditional, classical, and Christian ethics. As we have seen, capitalism and socialism both have their own specific moral defect, but more importantly they both share in the common ethical failing of all modern economics , the mistaking of material abundance for happiness and the inversion of the hierarchy of goods so as to make the pursuit of material goods the end of human existence.

I do not mean to propose another economic system as a kind of ethical alternative to capitalism and socialism. The problem is not just with capitalism and socialism but with the whole idea that an economic system could be devised that would bring Paradise to man on earth. Tories recognize that economics in the best sense is an art rather than a science, the art practiced in each family by those who manage the affairs of the household, and the art of statesmen in managing the affairs of the country. Tories also recognize that, for those practicing that art, the most useful information does not come from blueprints drawn up in some ivory tower, but from experience, both personal, and the collective experience of the society and of the human race in general, i.e. the experience embodied in tradition. Included within that tradition, and inseparable from it, is the ancient and ongoing discussion of goods and the good (3) that we call ethics, and so for this reason, among many others, Professor Dart is indeed right in saying that “Tories do not separate ethics from economics.”

(1) There is an error in the reference. Dante did not place the greedy and the wasteful in the lowest level of hell. He placed them in the fourth circle of hell, the lowest circle of upper hell which Virgil and Dante passed through before crossing the River Styx and the city Dis into lower hell. The ninth, and lowest circle of Dante’s Inferno, was the pit of Cocytus, reserved for the treacherous.

(2) Much of the published writings of George Grant is devoted to this question in one form or another. See especially his Philosophy for a Mass Age, Technology and Empire, and Technology and Justice.

(3) Part of that ongoing discussion, is the serious critique of modern economic systems, including both capitalism and socialism, from a standpoint of traditional ethics. Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum is an excellent example of this. It called for social justice for the workers in industrial capitalism but condemned socialism as an unacceptable alternative to capitalism. In this it was far superior to the attempt to equate socialism with the Christian gospel that was occurring in North America at the same time. This latter so-called “Social Gospel” was found primarily among free church Protestants who had been influenced by modern philosophy into rejecting the doctrines contained in the Creeds of the ancient Church and the Confessions of their own denominations. Leo XIII’s encyclical, inspired the “distributist” critiques of capitalism and socialism among early 20th Century Catholic writers such as Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton, who in turn inspired the critiques of such men as E. F. Schumacher and Wilhelm Roepke later in the 20th Century. Roepke wrote at a time when the distinction between capitalism and socialism was becoming blurred as both systems were evolving in the same direction – mass society governed by bureaucrats and technocratic managers. He was an advocate of economic liberalism, of the Austrian school type, but only within a Christian social and moral context. Schumacher wrote later on in the 20th Century, when the evolution of capitalism and socialism into a single large scale system was already more or less complete. He believed that large scale economics in mass societies dehumanized those who participated in it, and declaring that “small is beautiful” issued a call for local, small-scale, economics “as if people mattered”. That call would be repeated in the writings of many others, left and right, including Kirkpatrick Sale, Wendell Berry, Rod Dreher, and Bill Kauffman.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Back to the Church Fathers

The Rebirth of Orthodoxy: Signs of New Life in Christianity by Thomas C. Oden, San Fransisco, HarperCollins Publishers, 2003, 212 pages, US $24.95, CAN $38.95
Orthodoxy, that is to say the doctrines that were taught and defended as sound by the Apostolic and Patristic Church in its early, undivided, state, and which have continued to be held by the various branches which have sprung from the single trunk stem of that Church down through the centuries, has been under attack in Protestantism for the last two centuries. As modernity brought a wave of secularism into Western philosophy and science, turning the efforts of these disciplines towards the finding of naturalistic and materialistic explanations of the universe that excluded the need for divine revelation from God, a growing segment of Protestantism responded with attempts to accommodate this modern way of thinking in Christianity.

It began in the seminaries, in which the academic study of the Bible ceased to be training for the expository preaching of authoritative texts and became instead the source of imaginative theories that explained away the text, and undermined its authority. The source criticism of the Graf-Wellhaussen documentary hypothesis, which tried to isolate the hypothetical original documents that the Torah was supposedly patched together from by a post-Exilic redactor, was followed by various forms of form criticism that sought to reconstruct the oral tradition that preceded the written canon. From the latter came such pursuits as the “quest for the historical Jesus”, based upon the neo-Gnostic assumption that the historical Jesus of Nazareth and the Christ of faith could be distinguished from each other, and “demythologizing”, which tried to distill the kerygma, the basic message of the Gospels, from the “myths” in which it was contained. (1)

While this was going on, in the theological departments of the seminaries, men like Friedrich Schleiermacher and Albrecht Ritschl were developing a new theology in which the doctrines which historically, traditionally, and Scripturally, were the central defining content of the Christian faith – the Trinity of One God in Three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, united in One Person in the Incarnation, His death as the Atoning sacrifice for the sins of humanity, His Exaltation, beginning with His triumphant Resurrection from the dead and continuing through His Ascension into Heaven, His sitting at the right hand of the Father, to culminate at the end of time with His return to judge both the living and the dead – were redefined or jettisoned altogether as being peripheral. This new “modernist” or “liberal” theology tended to reduce Christian theology proper to a vague concept of God as loving Father of all, Christian soteriology to a simple universalism, Christian eschatology to the idea that the Kingdom of God would be established on earth through leftist social and political action (2) and Christian ethics to the bland idea that we should be nice to each other.

The result of all of this was the advent of the Modern Churchman, brilliantly spoofed by Evelyn Waugh in his first novel Decline and Fall, who “who draws the full salary of a beneficed clergyman and need not commit himself to any religious belief.”

These developments provoked a number of responses. One of the earliest was that of Danish Lutheran theologian and existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who responded by denouncing the rationalism that the liberal theologians were seeking to accommodate and insisting that Christianity was not to be based upon reasoned argument but to be entered by a leap of faith.

The first organized response, however, was that of fundamentalism. Influenced heavily by 18th-19th Century evangelical revivalism and the 19th Century theology of dispensational premillenialism that had begun in the Plymouth Brethren and spread among other Protestant denominations through the Scofield Reference Bible, fundamentalism was an inter-denominational movement that sought to define the fundamentals of the faith (3) and to aggressively defend them against liberal or modernist attacks.

The next major response to theological liberalism was that of neo-orthodoxy. Neo-orthodoxy began in Switzerland with Karl Barth and Emil Brunner and was spread in the United States by the Niebuhr brothers, Reinhold and Richard, and by Paul Tillich. (4) Neo-orthodoxy rejected the liberal project of adapting Christianity to Enlightenment rationalism and insisted that Christian truth was a revelation from God. Unlike fundamentalism, however, it did not identify that revelation with the words of Holy Scripture but with the believer’s personal encounter with God in the reading of the Scriptures. It was always questionable therefore, whether neo-orthodoxy was a return to orthodoxy from the heterodoxy of liberalism or an attempt to replace the old orthodoxy with a new, different one.

A similar question has been asked on the American political and cultural right, over the last thirty years, about a group of thinkers who had started out on the left as part of the “New York Intellectuals”, become Cold War liberals after World War II, and then re-aligned themselves with the conservative movement after the rise of the New Left in the 1960s. The members of this group are commonly known as the neo-conservatives and those, who have called the authenticity of their conservative conversion into question, and re-asserted the canons of classical Burkean conservative thought in the distinctly American form it was given by Russell Kirk and Richard Weaver decades ago, are known as the paleoconservatives.

Is there also a paleo-orthodoxy in Christian theology?

Yes, as a matter of fact there is and the man who is its leader is Thomas Clark Oden, a United Methodist minister and the professor of theology and ethics at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. Like the neo-orthodox, Oden started out as a liberal. Indeed, as we shall see momentarily, that is something of an understatement. He grew disillusioned with liberalism, and, after rejecting the modern assumptions it is based upon, turned to the doctrines that have been considered orthodox by Christians since the early centuries of Christianity. In his 2003 book, The Rebirth of Orthodoxy, he writes:

Since 1979 I have used the term paleo-orthodoxy for the orthodoxy that holds steadfast to classic consensual teaching, in order to make it clear that the ancient consensus of faith is starkly distinguished from neo-orthodoxy. The “paleo” stratum of orthodoxy is its oldest layer. For Christians this means that which is apostolic and patristic. For Jews it means that which is rabbinic and midrashic. These two branches of the “paleo” stratum developed side by side during the same timeframe and within the same language world. (p. 34, bold indicates italics in original)

The Rebirth of Orthodoxy is the story of how, in the late 20th Century, Christianity and Judaism both experienced a renewal of interest in the ancient teachings of their respective faiths. As a Christian theologian, he focuses on this renewal within Christianity, but points out certain parallels with what is happening in Judaism. Ironically, the writings of each faith in the period he has in mind, treats the other faith with invective that would make that used by the Reformers against the Reformers against the papacy and vice-versa seem relatively mild in comparison, but that never comes up. Perhaps that is just as well.

Oden begins his story by setting the stage with an account of the death of modernity. The idea of the modern age, as the third age of Western civilization to follow classical antiquity and medieval Christendom, goes back to the Renaissance which is usually thought of as the beginning of that age. In the second half of the 20th Century it became widely accepted that the modern age was ending or had come to an end, some even arguing that it had ended as early as the Second World War. Oden concurs with this, although the modern age of which he writes is an abridged version that begins with the French Revolution and ends with the collapse of Communism in 1989. It was in this period that Marx, Nietzsche, Darwin and Freud introduced their destructive ideas and by the end of this period these ideas and ideologies had been largely discredited. In discussing the collapse of modernity and its ideologies Oden helpfully identifies the arrogant attitude which characterizes so much modern thought. This attitude, which he calls modern chauvinism, assumes “the intrinsic inferiority of all premodern ideas and texts, and the intrinsic superiority of all modern methods of investigation” (p. 8).

The irony of modern chauvinism is that while modern ideologies, such as the ones mentioned, had only a very brief lifespan before they were dated, discredited, and bankrupt, traditional faith communities, such as the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and evangelical forms of Christianity have survived the crisis of modernity and even thrived. The same can not be said for the liberalism that embraced modernity. Wherever it has been adopted it has lead to empty pews, dwindling and aging congregations, and ultimately the closing of parishes.

Oden’s story, however, is not just about how much more persistent and durable traditional, orthodox forms of faith are compared to modern ideas. It is about a rediscovery of ancient orthodoxy that is concurrent with the collapse of modernity and which is taking place not only among Roman Catholics, evangelicals, and others who have remained faithful to their traditional beliefs but also in denominations that have gone liberal.

Indeed, the tenth chapter of the book, entitled “Recentering the Mainline” is all about renewal and confessing movements within the mainline Protestant denominations, i.e., the denominations in which liberalism prevailed for most of the 20th Century. Oden lists and in his endnotes provides contact information for such movements within the Episcopalian (Anglican), Presbyterian, United Methodist, United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, American Baptist, United Church of Canada and Lutheran denominations, as well as a number of organizations that seek to coordinate the confessional movements in various denominations. He encourages the faithful in such denominations with the example of his own denomination, the United Methodist Church, which in its General Conference in 2000 AD affirmed a number of orthodox doctrines, practices, and moral stances that would have been unheard of at previous such assemblies.

The “rebirth of orthodoxy” of which he writes, however, is not just a returning to the traditional roots of a particular denomination. The orthodoxy that is being rediscovered is that of the early centuries of the Church, an orthodoxy which part of the common heritage of all Christian denominations. It is, in other words, an ecumenical orthodoxy.

For much of the 20th Century an ecumenical orthodoxy would have been a contradiction in terms. For the ecumenical movement was anything but orthodoxy. It sought Christian unity at the expense of Christian truth, and by aligning itself with modern ideas and practices and radical and revolutionary causes, generated more division than it did unity. For this reason, Oden calls the ecumenism of the orthodox “the new ecumenism” – this is the title of his fifth chapter – to distinguish it from what he calls the old ecumenism, i.e., the ecumenism of the World and National Councils of Churches. Of course the identification of these ecumenisms as “new” and “old” relative to each other is only valid within the context of recent history – in the larger context of the entire history of the Christian Church, Oden’s “new ecumenism” is much older, for it is based upon the unity in orthodox teaching and practice of the ancient, undivided, Church.

Early in the book, Oden defines orthodoxy as “integrated biblical teaching as interpreted in its most consensual classic period.” (p. 29) If the hallmark of a good definition is that it brings clarity to the meaning of the word being defined, Oden deserves a failing grade for that one. Thankfully, he does not leave it at that but explains what he means. Orthodoxy is a tradition that begins with the Scriptures, a canon of sacred texts accepted as authoritative by the faithful and continues with the interpretation and understanding of those texts, the confession of beliefs drawn from those texts, and the living out of those beliefs in the lives of the faithful, all under the direction of the Holy Spirit. That it takes place under the direction of the Holy Spirit – the Comforter Whom Jesus had promised would guide His Church into all truth – is the most important part of this, because without it, Oden’s repeated, annoying, use of the word consensual would suggest the ludicrous idea that truth is something that is determined by democratic vote.

How truth is determined, is the subject of his eleventh and final chapter. In this chapter, he tells us about St. Vincent, the fifth century monk who after much travelling throughout the Christian world and dialoguing with a broad spectrum of Christian leaders and believers, withdrew to a monastery at Lerins, shortly after the Council of Ephesus, where he wrote his Commonitory. In this work, St. Vincent wrote that in distinguishing the true faith from heresy, recourse must first be taken to the Scriptures, then to the tradition of the Church. In this context he gave his famous rule about what to do when the correct interpretation of Scripture is in dispute: Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est, that we should hold to whatever is believed everywhere, always, and by all. (5)

This was not, as Oden points out, an invention of St. Vincent, but rather something that was commonly understood among the various Christians he had discussed the matter with during his travels. It put forward three criteria for a doctrine to be considered orthodox – universality, that it was held by the whole Church and not just by those within a certain region; Apostolic antiquity, that it had been taught since the earliest days of the Church, and Conciliar consent, that it had been affirmed by the ecumenical Councils of the Church. If a Council had not determined a doctrinal issue one way or the other, Oden suggests that the writings of the Church fathers, in particular those of the great doctors Sts. Athanasius, Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome and Gregory the Great, are a guide to the consensus of the ancient Church.

In an earlier chapter, the seventh, Oden had discussed various scholarly projects underway regarding the earliest interpretation of the Scriptures in both the Christian and Jewish traditions, including the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture that he himself was editing. This return to the texts, tradition, and methodology of classic Christianity is not just an academic exercise. Oden portrays it as being transforming and revitalizing, both for individual believers and for denominations, and uses his own experience as an illustration. As mentioned earlier, he had started out as a liberal. The son of radical parents, he says that he “learned my agnosticism from Nietzsche, my social views from radical Methodists and existentialists, and my theology (God help me, I confess) from Alan Watts.” (p. 84). After pointing out that he and Hillary Rodham Clinton had largely had the same education, early ideals, and influences he writes that when he looks now at her “persistent situational ethics, political messianism, statist social idealism, and pragmatic toughness” he sees “mirrored the self I was a few decades ago”. (p. 85) He credits a mentor and colleague of his at Drew University, Will Herberg (6) for steering him towards orthodoxy. Herberg challenged Oden to study the fathers of the Christian tradition, citing his own experience of studying the early texts of his own faith, the Talmud and Midrashim after his disillusionment with his early Communism, telling him that he “would remain theologically uneducated until I had studied carefully Athanasius, Ambrose, Basil and Cyril of Alexandria” and that until he did he was “not a theologian except in name, even if remunerated as one”. (p. 87)

Herberg’s challenge clearly bore fruit. Oden took him up on his challenge, and through reading the early fathers and conversations with orthodox believers, went from being the kind of person just described to being someone who believes, lives, and teaches the faith once delivered unto the saints.

There were some places where I could not see eye to eye with the author. The largest of these concerns the “fairness revolution”, which is Oden’s general label for the egalitarian movements that have wrought tremendous social changes in living memory. Oden gives the civil rights movement, the so-called women’s movement (feminism), the papal apology for the Crusades, and the struggle over “unconventional lifestyles” in the Boy Scouts, as examples of this fairness revolution. Oden is not blind to the many glaring problems with this revolution, and is particularly critical of its tendency to produce a form of modern chauvinism, in which past generations are condemned for not sharing the current generation’s supposed commitment to fairness. He is also not unaware that the fairness revolution has had some pretty bad consequences:

A dependency population within a welfare state has become a fixed reality. Victimization has become a game. Women suffer more, not less, from divorce and economic instability. Family cohesion has diminished. The children of the fairness revolution are paying an extremely high price in family disorder, adolescent suicide rates, neuroses, and chronic anxiety. (p. 12)

Nevertheless, Oden seems unable to go all the way to the only tenable conclusion about the fairness revolution – that it was from day one, completely worthless and execrable and that it never had any better goal than an insane vision of a society restructured so as to be driven by what is the equivalent of the infantile whine of “it’s not fair, it’s not fair, Johnny’s got a bigger piece of cake than I do, you like Suzie better than you like me, wah, wah, it’s not fair.” Instead, he devotes an entire chapter to arguing that the goals of the fairness revolution are laudable, come from classical Christian orthodoxy, and that the problem with the revolution is its reliance upon secular and governmental agencies to accomplish its ends.

It seems to me that in this part of the book, Oden is confusing, on the basis of a partial surface resemblance, two things that are essentially different and incompatible with each other, classic Christian catholicity in which all people everywhere are welcome to partake of the unity of one Lord, one faith, one baptism one the one hand and late modern ideals of fairness on the other.

That being said, he at least does not treat the fairness revolution with the uncritical adoration it receives from most academics and clergymen. Furthermore that is only one chapter out of eleven, in what is otherwise an excellent, encouraging, and inspirational book. I enjoyed reading it and recommend it for others.

(1) The history of the19th Century “quest for the historical Jesus” was told by famous missionary Albert Schweitzer in his early 20th Century work by that title. Demythologizing is most associated with Rudolf Bultmann, New Testament professor at the University of Marburg. Both men were German Lutherans.

(2) This blend of post-millenialism and socialism was called the “Social Gospel”. Its first major proponent was Walter Rauschenbusch, a Baptist pastor in New York. Today, the concepts of “Social Gospel” and “social justice” are virtually synonymous and interchangeable. In Rauschenbusch’s day, however, “social justice” was a Roman Catholic concept, that taught by Pope Leo XIII in “Rerum Novarum”, which condemned socialism even more harshly than it did liberalism (capitalism).

(3) The term “fundamentalism” was coined by Baptist Curtis Lee Laws, and was popularized by The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth, a series of apologetical essays defending the authority of Scripture and the historic doctrines of the faith by conservative theologians of various denominations, that was published by the Bible Institute of Los Angeles. The movement was by nature and necessity reductionist. The most popular list of fundamentals contained five – the Inerrancy of Scripture and the Deity, Virgin Birth, Substitutionary Death, and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This brought the movement criticism from conservative Protestants that would otherwise have been in sympathy with it.

(4) German Lutheran Dietrich Bonhoeffer was also a noted neo-orthodox theologian.

(5) Within the community of believers, that is.

(6) This is the same Will Herberg who wrote Protestant, Catholic, Jew and was Religion Editor of William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review. His own experience, of an early Communist radicalism followed by disillusion, a turn to the right, and a rediscovery of traditional faith – in his case Judaism – was not uncommon among Buckley’s early staff.