Stanley Fish on Liberalism

Fish discusses the liberal Western order (not political liberalism) and observes:

If you persuade liberalism that its dismissive marginalizing of religious discourse is a violation of its own chief principle, all you will gain is the right to sit down at liberalism’s table where before you were denied an invitation; but it will still be liberalism’s table that you are sitting at, and the etiquette of the conversation will still be hers. That is, someone will now turn and ask, “Well, what does religion have to say about this question?” And when, as often will be the case, religion’s answer is doctrinaire (what else could it be?), the moderator (a title deeply revealing) will nod politely and turn to someone who is presumed to be more reasonable. To put the matter baldly, a person of religious conviction should not want to enter the marketplace of ideas but to shut it down, at least insofar as it presumes to determine matters that he believes have been determined by God and faith. The religious person should not seek an accommodation with liberalism; he should seek to rout it from the field, to extirpate it, root and branch.

How is it that he sees things so clearly and yet Christians are so blind?! He writes later:

That is what Marsden should want: not the inclusion of religious discourse in a debate no one is allowed to win, but the triumph of religious discourse and the silencing of its atheistic opponents. To invoke the criterion of intellectual validity and seek shelter under its umbrella is to surrender in advance to the enemy, to that liberal rationality whose inability even to recognize the claims of faith has been responsible for religion’s marginalization in the first place. Marsden wants to argue against that marginalization, but his suggestion for removing it is in fact a way of reinforcing it. He calls it “procedural rationality.” The procedure is to scrutinize religious viewpoints and distinguish between those that “honor some basic rules of evidence and argument” and those that “are presented so dogmatically and aggressively as not to be accommodated within the procedural rules of pluralistic academia.”
One could hardly imagine a better formula for subordinating the religious impulse to the demands of civil and secular order. Presumably it will not be religion that specifies what the rules of evidence and argument to be honored are; and it surely will not be religion that stigmatizes as dogma any assertion that does not conform to the requirements of those rules. Dogma, of course, is a word that once had a positive meaning: it meant the unqualified assertion of a priori truths and was indistinguishable from a truly strong religiosity. It is only under the liberal dispensation that dogma acquires the taint of obdurateness, of a culpable refusal to submit to the test of reasonableness as defined by the standards and norms of the civil establishment.

Fish sees the Van Tillian antithesis. The very notion that “religion” should “contribute” to a “public square” marginalizes the truth which is that all of reality is encompassed in the rule of the resurrected Messiah from Nazareth. I think such public square attempts are fine if they are recognized for what they are: tactics in the long war which will tide us over until the nation is baptized and under the reign of King Jesus.

What’s Wrong with SkyDrive?

So here we are in 2010 and Microsoft SkyDrive is still sitting around not doing much. Yes, you can now edit Excel and PowerPoint files online, but Word, the tool that most of the world still has to use, is still unavailable for editing. Also, when you view your Documents folder, you have no option to select multiple files at the same time and perform an action to all of the files at once….in 2010…from the biggest software company ever.

They must be devoting a paltry amount of money and time to this service. Then, there is Office Live Workspace, which offers a better view of files, albeit one that looks like SharePoint in the cloud. Still, there is no ability to edit the document outside of Word on your local PC. What is the deal? Google Docs, which does not have as good an interface as Word, is still able to do all these things and has been for some time.

The issue can’t be ability, because Microsoft has to have the capabilities to do these seemingly simple tasks. Is Microsoft undergoing internal debates about how user-friendly to make these services and thereby taking forever to improve them? After all, who would really want to pay for Office anymore if we have the ability to do everything on SkyDrive, Office Live or some future combination of all these weird services in combination with free stuff like OpenOffice, Adobe Acrobat.com and Google Apps? But that is the future, whether Microsoft fights it or plays along. If they don’t want to make it available, Google will just keep cleaning their clock, even though Google’s interface and icons are corny and cartoonish at this point.

Either way, looking at SkyDrive and all of Windows Live you get the feel of 2004 or so. It looks like no one has thought about it much, it doesn’t work well, it seems poorly designed and it is ugly. Maybe this will all change. I hope so because I’d like to use it more.

The Qur’an and the Bible

After weeks of waiting I received my copy of Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation by John Wansbrough. This book is not a light read. It needs to be read with a copy of the Qur’an close at hand and it requires flipping to notes and translations at the back of the book all the time. This does not deter me, because many great works have difficult gateways to get through.

Wansbrough is arguing that the Qur’an does not make sense without the Bible as a backdrop. The Qur’an takes many Biblical narratives and turns them into parables. It expects the reader / hearer to know the Biblical story already, or else much of what it says would not make sense. He sees the Biblical motifs of election (not all Israel is Israel) and the remnant in the Qur’an; for example:

And when his Lord tried Abraham with certain commands he fulfilled them. He said: Surely I will make thee a leader of men. (Abraham) said: And of my offspring? My covenant does not include the wrongdoers, said He. (2:124)

He goes on to list many more examples of borrowing and transfer from the Biblical story.

Going Paperless

I bought a new scanner – I really haven’t had a workable one for years and years – so I am now setting out to scan every bit of paper in the house that I can and upload it to the cloud. I want to throw away as many papers, documents and magazines as I can and keep it all electronically. This is a laborious process but I expect it to pay dividends in the end. I hope to eliminate a lot of clutter and searching for things this way.

An Anglican Prayer Book

I am creating a version of the Anglican Prayer Book published by Peter Toon and the Prayer Book Society. I hope to shop it around and see if it can be published in leather and India paper. If nothing else, I’ll have a nice PDF! Let me know if you are interested and I’ll send you a sample at some point, God willing.

Friedan, Feminism and Fulfillment

In his “Writer’s Almanac” for today, Garrison Keillor talks about Betty Friedan who wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963. Keillor says:

Friedan wrote about what she called ‘the problem that has no name,’ found particularly among educated suburban women in the years after the end of World War II, women who were leading ostensibly idyllic domestic lives as busy housewives and mothers and yet who felt inexplicably unfulfilled, unhappy, and restless.

She wrote:

‘The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night — she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question — ‘Is this all?’

I’m sure it’s true that many wives and mothers then and now felt unfulfilled or suffocated at home. I would attribute this more to America’s affluence at the time – whereas in previous generations most women didn’t have the luxury of thinking about much beyond survival and the daily routine, in the post-WW II generation, the horizons expanded due to prosperity and the possibility of office work.

With that said, guess what: the secret is that men feel the exact same sense of ennui, despair and boredom at work that Friedan seems to locate in the home! Do you think it is somehow inherently exciting to get up at the same time five days a week, get in a car, commute to work listening to the same garbage on the radio, sit down at a desk and become a cog in the faceless corporate machine for 50 years? Or better yet, to mop floors, drive trucks, lay concrete, or whatever? Is this a life of dazzling fulfillment that men are conspiring to deny to women?

Far from it. And I think most women who get beyond college-age idealism find out the hard way that this is the case. I say the hard way, because by the time they realize this, it is often too late. They are hemmed in by college debts that need to be repaid, a kid or two at home and the built-in financial demands of a two-income lifestyle. Some find that when they have children they actually WANT to be at home with the kids, but now they can’t because of those same financial reasons. The expectation of college and career contributes to the delay in marriage. Women and men get married older and by the time they get around to having kids, it becomes more of a strain to bear them and raise them. Guess what? You don’t have as much energy to deal with screaming toddlers when you are 35 as opposed to 20 or 18. That might be one reason why God designed us for maximum reproductive potential at those younger ages!

With widespread abortion, birth control, and the expectation of wealthy, comfortable lives, I don’t expect the pattern of women working rather than mothering to change except in small pockets of resistance. At bottom, the idea that fulfillment is found in a sphere other than where we are is the classic “grass is greener” myth. Some jobs are inherently fulfilling, but not many in the big picture. The Christian ideal is that we find contentment in whatever role we are given, and sanctify the same. The Apostles tell us again and again to be content. This is not easy, it is the knife edge of sanctification, because jobs are tedious, hard, demanding and draining. Telling women that moving into corporate slavery is somehow a big advantage over raising kids and sitting at home is a lie. Unfortunately, it is a lie that we are now completely bought in to. Thanks, Betty Friedan.

Biblical Theocracy

James Jordan says:

The gospel is the announcement that Jesus is now king of the entire world, and that all nations are to be discipled. Israel was the model discipled nation, and now all nations are to be discipled. Israel’s history relates typologically to all the world now, as we are put into the olive tree. Everything God told Israel, including the Law, is typologically normative for all the world, for all nations. I call this “Biblical theocracy.”

The gospel is not theology or ideas. It is not experiences. It it not even the church considered merely as some kind of annabaptist worshiping community in the midst of a world that will never be changed. The gospel is a new creation, a new world. It is Christendom. It is theocracy. This is not “theonomy” as Bahnsen defined it, but it is close enough that it looks like it to many people. And the practical implications of Biblical Theocracy are often quit similar to “theonomy” as regards the discipleship of nations, because typological application is still application. And just as the early church directly challenged Caesar’s purported lordship, there is a need today for the prophetic people of God to directly challenge modern ideas of law and democracy and insist on the crown rights of King Jesus.