Chronicles, May 2009

The Reverend Ann Holmes Redding

The Reverend Ann Holmes Redding

This issue of Chronicles tells the story of Seattle’s Reverend Ann Holmes Redding, who has been ordered to leave her position as an ordained priest in the Protestant Episcopal Church in America simply because she has converted to Islam.  They do not seem to have great sympathy for Rev. Redding’s complaint of religious discrimination, but they don’t have much respect for the Episcopal Church, either.  Surveying the willingness of that Church’s leaders to discard all of the more hostile-sounding parts of the Christian tradition, they conclude that the Episcopalians’ “understanding of ‘Christ-follower’ must mean a disciple of the imaginary Jesus who never, no never, discriminates.” 

The issue’s main feature is a roundtable under the title “Can the Republic be restored?”  Not without a moral revolution, says Thomas Fleming: “Constitutions do not make a people free any more than clothes nake the man.  Men, in fact, make clothes, and a free people makes a constitution that expresses its character.”  It is because Americans have lost the moral character of a free people that we have lost our Republic, not because we have lost our Republic that we have been degraded.  I think Fleming is right as far as he goes- political institutions express the habits of the people among whom they exist, they don’t transform those habits.  So there isn’t much point in writing a constitution that guarantees free speech, for example, to a people who fear unfamiliar ideas and habitually defer to authority.  On the other hand, those habits don’t appear spontaneously, but become widespread because of social institutions that reward them. 

Can the American Republic be restored?  Donald Livingston says no, because there never was such a thing.  The states were Republics when they formed the Union, the Union itself was something less: “a federation of republics is not itself a republic any more than the federation of nations in the United Nations, or in the European Union, is a nation.  A federation is a service agency of the political units that compose it.  Whatever else a republic might be, it is not a service agency of something else.” 

Can the American Republic be restored?  Clyde Wilson doesn’t claim to know, but he is quite clear on what will have to happen first if it is to be: the US presidency will have to be reined in.  “The American president began as Cincinnatus, a patriot called to the temporary service of his country (a republican confederation.)  The president ends as Caesar, a despot of almost unlimited power, presiding over a global empire.” 

Can the American Republic be restored?  Not unless a republican elite, an untitled aristocracy, reemerges, says Chilton Williamson; our current elite is an “exclusively educated New Class whose narcissism, social irresponsibility, and contempt for their social and intellectual inferiors makes Marie Antoinette look like Jane Addams.”  Only a class of civic minded landowners, Williamson claims, can guarantee liberty.  “Noblesse oblige can be inherited, but never learned.”   

Can the American Republic be restored?  Scott Richert recommends we turn to James Burnham’s book Congress and the American Tradition for the answer.  “What Burnham saw… is that the legislative power of Congress is as much (if not more) a constituent part of federalism as it is of the separation of powers.” 

Can the American Republic be restored?  Aaron Wolf says that it hardly matters; the key thing is that we should be a nation of economically self-sufficient farmers.  If we are not that, we will not be capable of self-government; if we are, we will be invulnerable to tyranny.  He may be right, but I rather doubt the practical utility of his proposal.

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10 Comments

  1. cymast

     /  April 27, 2009

    So Redding converted to Islam and now the Protestant Episcopal Church in America no longer identifies with her. Within the realm of religious institutions, I see nothing wrong with that. ?? “understanding of ‘Christ-follower’ must mean a disciple of the imaginary Jesus” Wow they come right out and say “imaginary”? BLASPHEMERS!

    “Men, in fact, make clothes . . ”

    That’s Fleming-code for “I want to rip mens’ clothes off and and lick their naked bodies.” He’s SO BORINGLY PREDICTABLE.

    “The president ends as Caesar, a despot of almost unlimited power, presiding over a global empire.” This is what people want to do. I suspect it my be connected to the predisposition of people to invent gods.

    “Only a class of civic minded landowners . . can guarantee liberty.” Sounds extreme.

    “we should be a nation of economically self-sufficient farmers” Somehow that sounds right (even though the quote above the above quote sounds extreme). But I’m not an economist and not a political analyst. And I agree with your doubt of the practicality.

  2. acilius

     /  April 27, 2009

    Just to be clear, the CHRONICLES crowd believes in a Jesus who does discriminate. The nice-guy Jesus beloved of liberal Episcopalians, Quakers, Unitarians, etc, that’s what they dismiss as “imaginary.”

    “Sounds extreme.” Definitely, throughout. My general idea in the “Periodicals Notes” is to record the points I might want to come back to later. That tends to underplay the sheer nuttiness of the average issue of CHRONICLES. I don’t often think, “Hm, an argument that the South was right to fight a war in order to perpetuate slavery- I’ll want to track that down again!” So I just note the occasional flashes of sanity amid the madness.

  3. cymast

     /  April 28, 2009

    “The nice-guy Jesus . . they dismiss as “imaginary.””

    Oh…….OK.

  4. acilius

     /  April 28, 2009

    The nice-guy Jesus is the main character of Quaker theology. A lot of Chronicles magazine seems to be specifically directed against Quakerism. For example, a couple of years ago Fleming wrote a couple of pages about how unChristian it is to sit together in silence. He didn’t mention Quakers, whose only identifiable ritual consists of sitting together in silence. Fleming’s idea of shared silence was so far from what Mrs Acilius and I encounter of a Sunday morning that I laughed out loud when I read that piece.

  5. cymast

     /  April 28, 2009

    How on Earth is it unChristian to sit together in silence?

    BTW if I had to pick out one Christian denomination that seemed to be the most faithful to the original teachings of Jesus, it would be Quakerism . . and if I had to pick out 1 Christian who seemed to be a true disciple of Jesus, it would be you, A.

  6. acilius

     /  April 29, 2009

    Aw, shucks! I’m blushing.

    Of course, the Chronicles crowd could always say that the reason the Quakers seem to be so much like Jesus is that they have invented an imaginary version of Jesus in their own image and persuaded lots of people to accept it. That article I mentioned a couple of weeks ago about how the Gospel of Mark is older than the other gospels might be to the point here. The warm-hearted, peace-loving, equality-minded, Quaker Jesus isn’t much in evidence in Mark. On the contrary, Mark’s Jesus seems to be a fire-and-brimstone end-of-the-world man who spent a lot of time thinking about how everyone who wasn’t Jewish, and most people who were Jewish, were abominations in the sight of G-d. So if that’s the authentic Jesus, the only true primitive Christians in the world today would be Israelis on the extreme right wing of their country’s politics.

    “How on Earth is it unChristian to sit together in silence?”

    Fleming’s idea seems to be that if no one is saying anything, then whatever object a person is looking at somehow defines what that person is thinking about. So if you are in a silent room looking at an image of Christ on the cross, you’re thinking of Christ on the cross. If you’re in a silent room looking at a blank wall, your thoughts must be blank. I remember a line to the effect that people sitting silently in an unadorned room “can only be paying homage to the Great Nothing at the center of the universe.” That was the line that made me burst out laughing, because it’s obvious in our meetinghouse when we have silent worship that people are worshipping Something. Look at their faces before and after the meeting and listen to what they say, and there’s no doubt that most of them are believers.

  7. cymast

     /  May 4, 2009

    So what’s the plural of “Jesus”? Or is “Jesus” already plural? Maybe it’s like “Elvis/Elvi”- “Jesus/Jesi. If I had to pick one Jesus it would be the understated gay cowboy Jesus. Bonus points for the phone.

  8. acilius

     /  May 4, 2009

    “Jesus” is the Latin spelling of a Greek attempt to pronounce the Hebrew name “Yeshua” (that’s “Joshua” to us.) The Romans didn’t usually decline foreign words. So, a Latin speaker probably would just have said “Jesus” regardless of how many Joshuas there were or how their names figured in the syntax of the sentence. Now, in the Middle Ages scribes ran all the words in the Latin manuscripts they were copying through their usual grammatical forms. So a medieval scribe, copying some Latin text about multiple Joshuas, might have treated the name as a second declension (where the stem of the word ends in a short “o” and the grammatical endings are attached to that “o”) and made the plural “Jesi,” or he might have treated it as a fourth declension (where the stem ends in a short “u”) and made the plural “Jesus” with a long “u.”

    By the way, Latin nouns where the singular ends in -is take a plural in -es, so that same hypercorrecting medieval scribe would have referred to more than one Elvis as “Elves.” There are no silent letters in Latin, so “Elves” would have been a two syllable word, rhyming with “Elway’s.” But again, the Romans would not have worried about changing the form of a borrowed word, so it’s artficial.

  9. acilius

     /  May 4, 2009

    The video: nice cowboy hats and a beat that sounds like horses’ hoof-beats.

  10. cymast

     /  May 4, 2009

    Thanks for the history lesson. I prefer the second declension.

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