Blogs of Christmas past

Since content will likely be light this coming week, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to offer up some representative posts from the previous four Decembers since I started blogging, as a kind of retrospective.

(Note: some of these originally appeared on my first blog, “Verbum Ipsum,” but have been imported to WP; consequently, there may be some broken links here and there.)


“A Final Word…on the Great Sectarian Debate”

Part of an ongoing discussion with Jennifer of Scandal of Particularity about Christian social ethics

“What Makes a Christian?”
I propose a definition

“How to think about the Bible” and “Revelation, inspiration, and interpretation”
Thoughts on the authority and inspiration of the Bible


“Critique of Pure (Jedi) Reason”

Excessively geeky analysis of the ethical philosophy of Star Wars

“Jesus – New and Improved”
The quest for new, heretofore “hidden” Jesuses as a way of avoiding the challenge of the Jesus we already know

“The Land Question”
A discussion of land reform by way of Tolstoy, Henry George, and Catholicism


“Barack Obama: Where’s the Beef?”
Some skepticism about all the hype surrounding some Senator from Illinois

“Jesus the Jew and Christian Practice”
A post that led to me being called out by Jason Byassee of the Christian Century as a crypto-Marcionite (Follow up post here)

“Animal Cloning and ‘Granting things their space'”
Against animal cloning

“Stephen R.L. Clark’s ‘anarcho-conservatism'”
A discussion of Clark’s political philosophy


A review of Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy

“The Virgin Birth: Does it matter?”
“A further argument for the Virgin Birth,” and
“Faith and factuality”
A series on the Virgin Birth and the broader question of the relation between faith and history

“Paul Zahl’s Theology of Grace”
A review of Paul Zahl’s Grace in Practice

“The Case for McCain”
I maintain that McCain is the least bad of the Republican candidates

Last word

For what it’s worth (not much at this point, presumably), my top three reasons for supporting Obama:

A saner foreign policy. Hard core peaceniks and non-interventionists (among whom I count myself) will, I suspect, find much to dislike about an Obama foreign policy, but there’s no doubt in my mind that it will be far preferable to McCain’s amped-up neoconservatism.

Executive restraint. Obama has expressed views on the scope of executive power that would constitute a big and important step back from those of the Bush administration. Friends of limited, constitutional government shouldn’t be comfortable with the unitary executive theory promulgated during the Bush years.

A serious approach to global warming. Unfortunately, we haven’t heard much about this issue during the general campaign, (The candidates have preferred to dwell on the more popular slogan of “energy independence.”) but this may well be the defining issue of our generation. Obama’s positions on cap-and-trade and renewable energy are superior to McCain’s (especially on the key issue of pollution credit auctions vs. giveaways), and I’m fairly confident he’ll push harder for implementing them.

There are other reasons I’m voting for Obama, but those are certainly among the most important. I don’t agree with him on everything, but, for my money, he clearly passes the threshold of acceptability and even gets into the zone where I’m genuinely enthusiastic about voting for him (first time that’s happened!).

Happy voting!

Socialism and stuff

Great piece by Hendrik Hertzberg on the “socialism” nonsense:

The Republican argument of the moment seems to be that the difference between capitalism and socialism corresponds to the difference between a top marginal income-tax rate of 35 per cent and a top marginal income-tax rate of 39.6 per cent. The latter is what it would be under Obama’s proposal, what it was under President Clinton, and, for that matter, what it will be after 2010 if President Bush’s tax cuts expire on schedule. Obama would use some of the added revenue to give a break to pretty much everybody who nets less than a quarter of a million dollars a year. The total tax burden on the private economy would be somewhat lighter than it is now—a bit of elementary Keynesianism that renders doubly untrue the Republican claim that Obama “will raise your taxes.”

On October 12th, in conversation with a voter forever to be known as Joe the Plumber, Obama gave one of his fullest summaries of his tax plan. After explaining how Joe could benefit from it, whether or not he achieves his dream of owning his own plumbing business, Obama added casually, “I think that when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.” McCain and Palin have been quoting this remark ever since, offering it as prima-facie evidence of Obama’s unsuitability for office. Of course, all taxes are redistributive, in that they redistribute private resources for public purposes. But the federal income tax is (downwardly) redistributive as a matter of principle: however slightly, it softens the inequalities that are inevitable in a market economy, and it reflects the belief that the wealthy have a proportionately greater stake in the material aspects of the social order and, therefore, should give that order proportionately more material support. McCain himself probably shares this belief, and there was a time when he was willing to say so. During the 2000 campaign, on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” a young woman asked him why her father, a doctor, should be “penalized” by being “in a huge tax bracket.” McCain replied that “wealthy people can afford more” and that “the very wealthy, because they can afford tax lawyers and all kinds of loopholes, really don’t pay nearly as much as you think they do.” The exchange continued:

YOUNG WOMAN: Are we getting closer and closer to, like, socialism and stuff?. . .

MCCAIN: Here’s what I really believe: That when you reach a certain level of comfort, there’s nothing wrong with paying somewhat more.

Unhappy conservatives

The American Conservative asked an eclectic group of thinkers on the Right (broadly speaking) to offer their endorsements for the election. Interestingly, by my count there are four Obama voters, two McCain voters, and twelve people who say they will either vote third party, write someone in, or not vote at all. This isn’t too surprising given that TAC leans paleocon and John McCain tends to push paleo buttons, especially on foreign policy and immigration questions. It remains to be seen whether the fractious dissident conservatives (a curious amalgam of realists, disillusioned neocons, libertarians, and traditionalists) can make some impact on the direction of the American Right after the election and the (presumed by nearly everyone at this point) GOP bloodbath.

Fear of a liberal planet

Under some circumstances I might be sympathetic to the argument that handing both Congress and the presidency to the same party is a bad idea. After all, our system of government is based on the principle of checks and balances, and one-party rule can lead to corruption and abuse of power in short order.

But look at it this way: if you think that Barack Obama’s stated policies are superior to John McCain’s, then you’re going to want a Congress that will enact those policies. And if you think the positions of congressional Democrats are better than those of Republicans, you don’t want a president who will veto them. Republicans understandably want to hold onto as many seats in Congress as they can, but if you favor liberal policies, then having more Democrats in Congress and a Democrat in the White House is a good thing. It’s not that complicated.

Annals of pandering

As a son of western Pennsylvania I’m naturally delighted to learn from John McCain that my ancestral homeland is the most God-loving part of the country!

Weak tea

The RNC is now running this ad (at least in our television market):

Are voters not supposed to notice that John McCain also lacks executive experience and hasn’t sat in the Oval Office during a crisis? Weak.

They’ve also been running that ridiculous “I’m Joe the Plumber” ad about how that commie Obama will raise taxes on all those Joe Sixpacks making a paltry quarter of a million dollars a year. Who’s buying this?

Why vote fraud essentially does not exist

If, like John McCain, you’re were worried about ACORN destroying the fabric of our democracy, you should read this.

“Spread the wealth”

Daniel Larison:

[…] the idea that the message of Spread The Wealth would be a political loser at the present time is bizarre, which makes McCain’s insistence on identifying Obama as the “spread the wealth” candidate even more bizarre. I mean, does McCain want to get crushed in a landslide? Let’s think about this. There is an economic downturn coming on the heels of an era of wage stagnation and growing economic inequality, the financial sector has imploded thanks to the combined blunders of government and holders of concentrated wealth and Obama’s use of a phrase that on its own could easily be mistaken for an expression of neo-Harringtonian distributism is supposed to be politically radioactive? Consolidation of power, concentration of wealth and centralism all stand condemned for having created the present fiasco, and there is supposed to be a political downside to talking about distributing wealth?

The concentration of wealth and power, my libertarian friends will tell me, is not the result of the workings of the free market, but of a rigged system of state privilege, byzantine regulations, and crony capitalism. But even if that’s right, then Obama’s modest “redistributionism” only makes more sense. If we’re going to have political control of the economy anyway (nationalizing the banks, anyone?), then shouldn’t it be aimed at spreading the benefits around as widely as possible?

The political theology of mainline Protestants?

This article at Harper’s argues that the rejection of the McCain/Palin ticket by mainstream Protestants that Steve Waldman described is a matter of theological as much as political differences (via Andrew Sullivan):

For the mainstream Protestant, Palin is engaging in what Reinhold Niebuhr calls “the idolatry of America.” As Niebuhr would have it, an American Christian may be patriotic and love his country, but he must also remember that his true home rests outside of these bounds fixed by geography and time and in an eternal community with Jesus Christ. The Christian’s commitment to his faith must come first, and it must transcend a commitment to the nation-state. This means that patriotism is, in the mainstream Protestant view, a fairly complicated matter. In particular, again in the Niebuhr tradition, a Christian must guard against the risk that vanity, haughtiness and hatred towards the balance of mankind enter into his heart under the guise of patriotism; he must retain a skeptical and critical attitude which recognizes the imperfection of human works. The perspective of Religious Right figures like Palin that elevates America—as their political blinders conceive her—to some sort of sacred object is therefore little short of an act of idolatry. Jesus Christ, as Charles Marsh reminds us, “comes to us from a country far from our own” and requires that believers lay their “values, traditions, and habits at the foot of the cross.” Or, as John Calvin says, “the heart is a factory of idols,” and a primitive noncritical form of patriotism can be a particularly troubling and entrenched idol.

I would love to attribute this level of theological sophistication in thinking about politics to my fellow mainliners, but color me skeptical. My guess is that mainline Protestants prefer Obama for much the same reasons as other people: the economy’s in the tank; we’ve just had 8 years of catastrophic Republican failures; and Obama has convinced them that he’s likely to be a steady hand on the ship of state.