The Brewing of a Toxic Culture

by Joseph Mattera | There is constant bickering and or resistance which then hurts the execution of the vision, which spills over to the rest of the organization—creating a toxic environment

The following 20 signs are based on my observations regarding organizational dysfunction associated with a toxic (poisonous) culture in any organization.

In this article, the word “culture” refers to the prevailing attitude, behavior, and unspoken feeling and or rules that motivate and determine how people respond, react and act in the context of their work.

The following toxic traits fit either a “for profit” or “nonprofit “organization (including nonprofits like a hospital, school or church).

1. The leader is a demanding micromanager.

When the leader of an organization is constantly hovering over staff and other team leaders—not only telling them what to do but exactly how to do it (although this is necessary temporarily when a new person is learning a new job until they prove their competency), it discourages the work environment because the leader’s leadership style demonstrates a lack of trust towards those under him or her.

2. The leader is emotionally abusive and demeaning.

A work environment is absolutely horrible when the boss is constantly putting the staff and other leaders down—never praising them and only speaking to them when he wants to correct them.

3. The leader doesn’t understand or desire to delegate tasks to others.

Often, micromanagers have a hard time delegating work to others because they have a “perfectionist” spirit and think they are the only ones who can get a job done the correct way. Even when they delegate, they don’t trust those they delegate to and are constantly on top of them, thus not giving them room to breathe or grow.

4. The leader and the governing board are always arguing.

I have spoken to numerous pastors or CEOs who say they dread board meetings because of philosophical differences. The result is, there is constant bickering and or resistance which then hurts the execution of the vision, which spills over to the rest of the organization—creating a toxic environment.

5. There is low morale among the staff, employees and participants.

When the staff and team leaders of an organization have low morale, it negatively affects the rest of the participants since it is like a virus that spreads to all.

6. The vision and mission are always changing based on the mood of the leader.

Any church or organization that has a new vision and mission every year has a confused leadership team. Since vision determines the organization’s responsibility and mission determines its authority, when these two are constantly changing, nobody understands what is expected; thus, creating confusion, lack of trust towards the leader and resulting in a toxic culture.

7. A culture of rampant gossip is tolerated.

When an organization cannot keep confidentiality among the leaders and staff, and when backstabbing and gossip is tolerated, the organization is poisonous and unfit to work in until there is a drastic shift away from this behavior.

8. There is a lack of transparency regarding financial decisions.

When any organization—including a church—doesn’t at least annually divulge financial expenditures, values and priorities, it shows a lack of accountability and possible mismanagement. When only the lead pastor and or CEO of an organization (not talking about a “for profit” mom and pop restaurant or small business) know the true financial state and or has access to the monies, it can be an ethical disaster waiting to happen. I’ve known of some cases where not even the trustees of the organization knew what was going on financially.

9. There is an ambiguous accountability structure.

When nobody on staff or in a ministry or job position understands who to report to, it creates a toxic, confusing environment without true accountability.

10. There is a lot of transition in the staff and middle management.

When a “season” of transition becomes years of staff transition, it becomes part of the culture and demonstrates some level of toxicity that chases people away from the work environment. People in healthy work environments usually enjoy going to work (unless they are lazy and unmotivated) and make a long-term commitment to serve.

11. There is no “buy in.”

The key to the success of all organizations is when the staff and participants go from being “employees” to “proprietors;” hence, only when the key players in an organization take ownership and have the attitude of a shareholder does the organization gain momentum.

An organization populated only with mere “employees” is a toxic organization that marginalizes its ability to execute its vision and mission.

12. There is an entitlement mentality among the leaders and staff.

When the leadership and staff of an organization have a “what’s in it for me” mentality—the organization is in big trouble.

This entitlement mentality spreads, then instead of a culture of servant leadership you have a culture of obtaining a title in the organization primarily, so you can enjoy the fringe benefits.

13. There is much activity without measurable goals and profitability.

When an organization has much activity without measurable goals, then it’s difficult to define success and failure. In a church like this, nobody has to exercise their faith in God to accomplish their mission and assignment. Consequently, it is an organization that is on autopilot or like an aimless ship at sea in the night. This causes much frustration and lethargy among the staff, and eventually creates a toxic environment.

14. There is blame-shifting and a lack of taking responsibility.

In any organization that doesn’t have clear lines of communication, leadership structure and accountability, it is easy to have a culture of blame-shifting. Since blame-shifting generates animosity among the staff (and irresponsibility from the ones blaming others) you have a toxic culture that needs to be cleaned up systemically.

15. The participants do the minimum amount of work required.

I have observed in many organizations leaders and staff who just do the minimum work required to keep their position. They clock in and clock out and don’t care to do above and beyond the general job description. This generates a very bad environment if it is not dealt with and results in resentment from other staff members carrying most of the weight.

16. There is a dearth of volunteers.

When it is hard for a nonprofit to garner volunteers, it may demonstrate that there is a disconnect with the vision, the morale is low or the people are not committed to the mission. This lack of motivation creates an apathy, that is toxic for the culture of the entity.

17. The boss regularly ignores the protocols.

Every efficient organization needs to have protocols in place related to communication, accountability, layers of leadership and responsibility so that participants know the when, where and who to report to. When the top leader continually violates these processes put in place he or she acts like they are above the law and become bad role models for other leaders who will also replicate their disregard for protocols and order.

18. The boss regularly bypasses the leadership structure set up.

When the top leader allows people to report directly to him or her—(thus bypassing the delegated leadership structure) it creates confusion, favoritism and disrespect towards those bypassed.

The result is resentment among those bypassed, a sense of entitlement and favoritism among those with direct access to the boss, resulting in a toxic environment that can only be fixed if the senior leader leads the way by ceasing to violate the hierarchical leadership structure.

19. Creativity and innovation are discouraged.

Healthy organizations encourage creative thinking, innovation, a certain level of risk-taking and cutting-edge methodologies to support and advance the mission.

When an organization is more concerned with protecting the status quo, the result is groupthink—a lack of creativity and a uniformity lacking a healthy dose of critical thinking, which eventually leads to the dulling and ineffectiveness of the organization.

20. There is no long-term planning.

The old popular adage “when you fail to plan, you plan to fail” is a proven truism. An organization constantly given to last-minute events (barring an unexpected crisis or emergency) or a lack of long-term planning (every organization should at least execute an annual planning meeting for future events directed towards advancing the assignment) is an organization without a spirit of excellence or proper focus.

The result will be many opportunities to maximize the gifts, talents and resources of the organization will be missed, which will frustrate many and hurt the morale of many.

Dr. Joseph Mattera is an internationally known author, interpreter of culture and activist/theologian whose mission is to influence leaders who influence nations. He is renowned for addressing current events through the lense of Scripture by applying biblical truths and offering cogent defenses to today’s postmodern culture. He leads several organizations, including The United Coalition of Apostolic Leaders ( To order one of his books or to subscribe to his weekly newsletter go to

Sowers of the Current Chaos

by Paul Kengor | Charles Murr says that Cardinal Gagnon explained to him hundreds of times that the enemies of the Church were not out to totally destroy the Church, because the membership and organization of the Church were far too precious; rather, they wanted to control the Church according to their own vision and scheme (getty images).

For keen insight into some of the malevolent forces at work in the Church right now, an unexpected source is a fascinating book by Father Charles Theodore Murr, titled, The Godmother: Madre Pascalina. Published in May 2017, for the centenary of Fatima, it is one of the most interesting yet underreported Catholic books of recent years.

The impetus was Fr. Murr’s utterly unique relationship with the figure closest to Pope Pius XII: Sister Josephine Lehnert (1894-1983). Mother Pascalina was so close to, so trusted by, and so influential to Pope Pius XII, that wise-guys around the Vatican alternately called her La Popessa and Virgo Potens (Powerful Virgin).

Charles Murr was a young American seminarian in Rome in the 1970s. He had a lifelong special devotion to Pius XII. He knew about the iconic Madre Pascalina. Over dinner one day at Il Scarpone restaurant with his colorful friend Monsignor Mario Marini—a classic boisterous Italian who held an important job at the Vatican Secretariat of State—Charlie learned that the old nun was still alive.

“She’s alive?” he asked with astonishment.

“Very much so,” said Marini, adding: “Not everyone’s as happy about that as you seem to be. No one knows better than La Madre where the bodies are buried.”

As a favor to Charlie, Marini made some moves within the Curia and secured an address and phone number. Charlie picked up a phone and took a chance. The rest is history—this history in this delightful book.

Charlie and Madre Pascalina first met in 1973, quickly becoming close friends. She would become his literal godmother at his ordination, the date of which she suggested: May 13, 1977, Feast Day of Our Lady of Fatima. They met frequently until Charlie was sent to Mexico in 1979. He would see her once more in 1983, only weeks before her death. The things she told him constitute a remarkable heretofore unpublished account of the Church in the twentieth century, from the historical to the theological to the ideological—and perhaps even to the level of diabolical, in some cases. At long last, Charles Murr has shared them.

The GodMotherThe book’s accounts of Pope Pius XII, from the person who knew him best, are striking enough. So are the insights regarding nearly every twentieth-century pope and even would-be popes such as the excellent Cardinal Giuseppe Siri and Cardinal Giuseppe Benelli, who both barely missed the papacy in the late 1970s. There are compelling stories I had never heard before about Padre Pio, about China’s Cardinal Thomas Tien Ken-Sin, and about Cardinal Edouard Gagnon, a dedicated French-Canadian—and future prefect for the Pontifical Commission for the Family—who was greatly frustrated by the failures of Paul VI to react to what Gagnon had documented (at Paul VI’s request) regarding wholesale corruption of the Curia. There are also intriguing inside tales of the rivalry between Fulton Sheen and Cardinal Francis Spellman, and of the perfectly preserved corpse of Pius IX that Madre Pascalina was there to inspect first, many decades after the pontiff passed.

But getting closer to some of the seeds that were laid for the current chaos in the Church, Charles Murr takes a deep dig into the circumstances around Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli and Giovanni Battista Montini, who assumed the papacy as, respectively, John XXIII and Paul VI. The Madre wasn’t a big fan of either, particularly John XXIII, whom she dismissed as un buffone (“a clown”).

It wasn’t always the popes themselves that Pascalina held responsible for certain troubles—it was often the men they surrounded themselves with and naively listened to and were often misled by. Take Pope Paul VI, whose right-hand man in dealing with murderous communists was Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, whose counsel on handling the Soviets and Communist Bloc despots was often downright lousy and counterproductive. Of course, Casaroli and Paul VI and John XXIII were certainly not Marxists, but they thought they could deal with Marxists, that they could negotiate with them, that they could even accommodate them. Like Pope Francis, these two popes were heavily influenced by key advisers (whom they chose themselves) who were leftist-progressives and who gave them bad advice in dealing with enemies of the Church, sometimes internal enemies.

As to Paul VI, we know about the tragic case of Cardinal Mindszenty as an indicator of his embarrassments in trying to satisfy Moscow. Roncalli likewise had his share. For Vatican II, according to Madre Pascalina, the one thing that Pope Pius XII had wanted ahead of time—and yes, she says it was Pius XII who had the initial idea for a council—was an unequivocal condemnation of communism. And yet, that was “the one thing that Roncalli absolutely refused to do.” (This adds new insight to my piece last year on Vatican II’s unpublished condemnations of communism.) This refusal, revealed Madre Pascalina to Charlie, was done as a promise to the Soviet government and the Kremlin-controlled Russian Orthodox Church in the name of ecumenism, and it presaged later such moves by Paul VI.

As for Paul VI, whom many of us admire in key respects, The Godmother surely nailed it when she described him as “not a strong man” who was “always easily manipulated.” He frequently struggled to “see the obvious” and realize just how gravely “the Church had enemies,” even as he came to realize that “the smoke of Satan had entered the Church.”

I personally believe this is very fitting to our situation with our pope today, who I contend is far more naïve than nefarious, duped than duplicitous—but has nonetheless created his own terrible mess by surrounding himself with progressive Church officials who have served him dreadfully.

Indeed, there is so much in this book that is important if not profound to current realities as we watch the crises in the Church unfold, from my home dioceses in Western Pennsylvania to Cardinal McCarrick to the unacceptable happenings at the Vatican under the nose of Pope Francis.

Charles Murr calls attention to some dubious characters, if not outright evildoers, in the latter twentieth-century Church. And that’s where Murr’s eyewitness testimony, based on what he saw in Rome in the 1970s and what Madre Pascalina conveyed to him, is so rich and relevant. What we’re seeing right now are the bitter fruits of the rotten seeds sown by a network of progressives, liberals, and the very “modernist” heresy that Pope Pius X warned about in 1907.

Madre Pascalina told Charlie that Pope Pius XII was convinced, just as St. Pope Pius X was convinced and officially declared, that modernism is “the synthesis of all heresies.” The Madre herself was convinced of this, declaring: “And the disgraziati [wretches] behind modernism were the same disgraziati who, for centuries, had been behind every plot to destroy the Church.” Who were they? She looked heavenward and explained to Charlie: “the Freemasons; the liberals; i progressisti [the progressives] … atheists, Marxists, communists.” Whatever the latest masquerade that “Lucifer goes by today…. I often wonder, what name will he go by tomorrow?”

Well, tomorrow in Madre’s time is now today in ours. Fill in the blank with the latest modernist label. And whatever its manifestation, she remarked, “evil is evil.”

Pius XII, said La Madre, wanted to be briefed at all times about the activities of these groups on their various fronts, particularly i communisti in the universities. He smelled them in the 1950s. And for Pope Pius XII, she said, “the worst” of his enemies were “liberals from inside the Church.”

This brings me to maybe the most ignominious villain in Charles Murr’s book: Cardinal Sebastiano Baggio. Murr reports that it was Baggio who appointed so many of the “progressive” prelates who enabled the wreckage we’ve seen in recent decades. Baggio was Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops from 1973-84, which oversees the selection of new bishops. (Cardinal McCarrick, incidentally, was made an auxiliary bishop in New York in 1977 and then bishop in New Jersey in 1981 before becoming archbishop of Newark in 1986.)

Baggio, Charles Murr contends, was not merely a progressive/modernist but a Freemason. He died in March 1993, living the last decade of his life with (in Murr’s words) “Pope John Paul II watching his every move.” The Polish pontiff put the former “Appointer of Bishops” in charge of printing and distributing Vatican City postage stamps. It was a demotion and slap-down, but the damage was done. The seeds for the bitter harvest were in place.

I asked Murr last week whether he saw the hand of the likes of Baggio in the current crisis. “Unquestionably,” he responded. Murr stressed that Baggio dedicated “much time and very particular attention” to potential “archbishop material,” since it was from such persons that cardinals were created. Baggio spent summer vacations visiting out of the way places in the world; places where he had named the archbishops. He would be their house guest, and when they traveled to Rome on Church business, Baggio made sure they saw him in his prefect’s office in the Congregation for Bishops. Murr said flatly that Baggio deliberated and exclusively created liberal bishops, and that any orthodox bishop or archbishop who managed to be named during those years occurred only due to dramatic efforts by orthodox members of the Roman Curia to convince Pope John Paul II to override Baggio. These exceptions infuriated Baggio.

As Murr today ponders the misdirection that the Catholic Church has often mistakenly taken these past 50 years, he notes that Madre Pascalina foresaw what would go wrong. While there was plenty of blame to go around, including during the “great disintegration” that included not only the Paul VI years but carried over into many of the John Paul II years, “the principal culprit” was Sebastiano Baggio, who “highhandedly appointed the world’s bishops for those extremely crucial, post-Council years…. He made certain that the new breed of bishops was, in a word, liberal.”

Pope Paul VI failed to deal with Baggio. When Charlie’s good friend, Edouard Gagnon, fulfilled Paul VI’s request to provide an in-depth report on what that “smoke of Satan” inside the Church looked like, Gagnon was practically despondent when the old, ailing Papa Montini made clear that he would choose to punt—that is, to pass along Gagnon’s investigation to the next pope.

The next pope would be John Paul I, who attempted to discipline Sebastiano Baggio. How did that go? That night was not a good one. In one of the most dramatic sections of his book, Fr. Charles Murr writes this of John Paul I and Cardinal Baggio: “The last person to see him [John Paul I] alive,” Gagnon told Murr, “was none other than Sebastiano Baggio. He [Baggio] entered the papal apartments after eight o’clock that night; the last person to speak, to scream, at the pope.” Following Cardinal Benelli’s wise counsel, Pope John Paul I had just removed Baggio from the Congregation for Bishops. The new pope died right after that.

Make of that what you will. I can neither add to that nor confirm.

Of course, Cardinal Baggio was not the only person causing mischief and mayhem. It was a team effort by multiple players of bad faith.

Madre Pascalina called out the liberal Archbishop Jean Jadot as a “colossal mistake” to be papal nuncio to the United States. She believed he would (in Murr’s words) “ruin the body of bishops” in America. He held that position from 1973-80 (again overlapping McCarrick’s appointment as bishop). Agreeing with La Madre was Mario Marini, who called Jadot “a mediocrity” whose “right niche” would have been “dog-catcher in some remote Belgian hamlet.”

Still another Church official who seems to have caused serious problems was Cardinal Annibale Bugnini, through his appalling “liturgy reforms.” Murr likewise casts a light on Bugnini.

Madre Pascalina lamented to Charles Murr that hundreds of thousands of religious had left the Church between 1965 and 1975. But still worse, she grimaced, “you should see the liberal tyrants who remain!”

In all, such were the kind of men in the Church who appointed the kind of men in the Church who have disappointed us so often.

Alas, here’s an interesting distinction underscored by Murr: He says that Cardinal Gagnon explained to him hundreds of times that the enemies of the Church were not out to totally destroy the Church, because the membership and organization of the Church were far too precious; rather, they wanted to control the Church according to their own vision and scheme. They wanted to remold and use it. They wanted it to be their Church remade in their image.

Needless to say, this book (and this article) is not a comprehensive accounting of all that has hurt the Roman Catholic Church over recent decades. There were plenty of insidious influences from all sorts of destructive forces. Nonetheless, we should not look past these progressive modernists in the Church. Madre Pascalina saw them coming, and the chaos that would ensue, and Fr. Charles Murr offers this crucial timely reminder of who they were—and are still.

Paul KengorPaul Kengor is Professor of Political Science at Grove City College, executive director of The Center for Vision & Values, and author of many books including The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor and Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage (2015). His new books are A Pope and a President and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism (2017).

Abraha: An Aksumite Christian Ruler of Yemen in 570AD

by Sergew Hable-Selassie | Ancient Christian Church in Ethiopia | General Abraha was a Tigraian military genius from Axum. General Abraha became a Governor of present day Yemen and Hijaz (western Saudi Arabia) under Emperor Kaleb of Axum. When the Jews of Yemen persecuted the Christians in the land of Arabaia and Emperor Kaleb of Axum sent an army to stop the Jews from oppressing the Christians (image: Ethiopian News).

Abraha (Ge’ez: ‘Abreha) also known as ‘Abraha al-Asram or Abraha b. as-Saba’h, was an Aksumite Christian ruler of Yemen. Accounts of his origin differ. Procopius recorded that he was once the slave of a Roman merchant at Adulis, while Tabari says that he was related to the Aksumite royal family. Be this as it may, he was either one of the commanders or a member of one of the armies sent by Emperor Kaléb against Dhü Nuwäs, the Judaized ruler of Yemen, in the period c. 523-525 A.D. to exact vengeance for the latter’s persecution of Christians in his realm. According to Procopius, ‘Abraha later seized control of Yemen from Esimiphaeus, the Christian Himyarite viceroy appointed by Kaléb, with the support of dissident elements in the Ethiopian occupation force
A reference map of the empire of Kaleb of Axum

A reference map of the empire of Kaleb of Axum

eager to settle in the Yemen, then a rich and fertile land. This event may have happened about 530 A.D. although a date as late as 543 has been postulated by Jacques Ryckmans. An army sent by Kaléb to subdue ‘Abraha joined his ranks and killed the ruler sent to replace him (this is perhaps a reference to ‘Ariat) and a second army was defeated. In the version of these events preserved by Tabari details vary slightly. ‘Abraha is said to have been the commander of the second army sent by Kaléb after the first, led by ‘Ariat, had been annihilated by Dhü Nuwäs through a ruse. This second army of 100,000 men successfully crushed all resistance and, following the suicide of Dhü Nuwäs, ‘Abraha seized power, establishing himself at Sana’a and proclaiming Christianity. He aroused the wrath of Kaléb, however, by withholding tribute and Kaléb sent his general ‘Ariat once again to take over the governorship of Yemen. ‘Abraha rid himself of the latter by a subterfuge in a duel in which ‘Ariat was killed and ‘Abraha suffered the injury which earned him the sobriquet of al-Asräm, “scar-face.” After this Kaléb had to accord him de facto recognition. ‘Abraha’s rule was probably confirmed by Kaléb successor, Emperor Bétä-‘Esra’él in return for nominal tribute and he went on to become an outstanding figure in Yemeni history, ruling efficiently and promoting the cause of Christianity in the face of the Judaism prevalent in Yemen and the paganism of Central Arabia.

A number of legends of popular origin have been woven around ‘Abraha’s name in Arab tradition which have not yet been substantiated. Of these traditions, the best-known concern the expedition against Mecca. At this period Mecca was the thriving center of the pagan cult

Two years ago arab news published a small article about what the Saudi historians found and documented. “During their tiring journey across mountains and rough terrain, the young Saudi men took photographs of important landmarks, beginning from north of Najran, to the east of Asir, and then east of Baha. Some of the most important historical sites along the way included inscriptions of elephants on rocks in the Al-Qahr Mountain, southeast of Tathlith; an old well in Hafaer, east of Asir; and a paved road near Kara in Aqeeq principality in the Baha region.” Arab news said.

In 2014, Arab news published a small article about what the Saudi historians found and documented. “During their tiring journey across mountains and rough terrain, the young Saudi men took photographs of important landmarks, beginning from north of Najran, to the east of Asir, and then east of Baha. Some of the most important historical sites along the way included inscriptions of elephants on rocks in the Al-Qahr Mountain, southeast of Tathlith; an old well in Hafaer, east of Asir; and a paved road near Kara in Aqeeq principality in the Baha region.” Arab news said.

of the Ka’aba and the pilgrim traffic was in the hands of the powerful Qurays family. Fired with Christian zeal, ‘Abraha set out to build a magnificent church at Sana’a to serve as a counter-attraction to the surrounding pagan peoples. This aroused the hostility of the Qurays who feared that the pilgrim traffic with its lucrative offerings would be diverted to Sana’a. It is sometimes said that one of their adherents succeeded in defiling the church and this led ‘Abraha to embark upon a campaign against Mecca. This event is associated in Islamic tradition with the year of the Prophet’s birth, c. 570 A.D. ‘Abraha is said to have used elephants in the campaign and the date is celebrated as the Year of the Elephant, ‘am al fil.’ An indirect reference to the event is found in Surah 105 of the Quran. ‘Abraha’s expedition probably failed due to the successful delaying tactics of the Qurays and pestilence broke out in the camp, which decimated his army and forced him to withdraw. Another tradition relates the expedition to an unsuccessful economic mission to the Qurays by ‘Abraha’s son.

We are fortunate in possessing irrefutable epigraphic sources which throw further light on ‘Abraha’s career. Of these the most important is the long inscription on the Marib dam which records the quelling of an insurrection backed by a son of the deposed ruler Esimiphaeus in the year 657 of the Sabaean era, i.e. between 540-550 A.D.; vital repairs effected to the dam later in the same year; the reception of envoys from the negus, from Byzantium, from Persia and from Harith b. Djabalat, the phylarch of Arabia; and the completion of repairs to the dam in the following year, followed by a great feast of rejoicing. The inscription indicates that the reign of ‘Abraha was a period of security and prosperity for the Yemen. The royal title adopted by ‘Abraha is similar to that of his immediate predecessors and to that of Emperor Kaléb, “King of Saba’ and dhü-Raydän and Hadramawt and Yamanat and of their Arabs on the plateau and the lowland.” A further text (Ryckmans 506) discovered at Murayghän records a defeat inflicted by ‘Abraha on the North Arabian tribe of Ma’add in the year 662 of the Sabaean era.No reliable information exists about the date of ‘Abraha’s death although tradition places it immediately after his expedition to Mecca. He was succeeded on the throne by two of his sons, Yaksum and Masruq, born to him by Raihäna, a Yemenite noblewoman whom ‘Abraha had abducted from her husband.


T. Noldeke, Geschichte der Perser und Araber zur Zeit der Sassaniden (Leyden, 1879), 200 ff.

F. Praetorius, “Bemerkungen zu den beiden grossen Inschriften von Dammbruch zu Marib”, Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, Vol. LIII, (1899), 1-24.

E. Glaser, “Zwei Inschriften über den Dammbruch von Mareb,” Mitteillungen der Vorderasiatischen Gesellschaft, VI (1897), 360-488.

A. Wiedemann in Orientalische Letteratur-Zeitung, 1 (1898).

Procopius (H. B. Dewing, ed.), De Bello Persico (London, 1957), I, xx.

Tabari (H. Zotenberg, ed. and trans.), Chronique (Paris, 1958), Vol. II, 184-208.

J. Ryckmans, L’institution monarchique en Arabie méridionale (Louvain, 1951).

——–, La persécution des chrétiens himyarites au sixième siècle (Istanbul, 1956).

Sidney Smith, “Events in Arabia in the 6th century A.D.,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Vol. XVI (1954).

A. F. L. Beeston, ABRAHA in Encyclopaedia of Islam (1960).

——–, “Problems of Sabaen Chronology,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies , Vol. XXVI (1954).

M. J. Kister, “The Campaign of Huluban. A New Light on the Expedition of ‘Abraha,” Le Muséon, Vol. LXXVIII (1965).

Sergew Hable-Selassie, *Ancient and Medieval Ethiopian History to 1270 *(Addis Ababa, 1972).

This article is reproduced, with permission, from The Dictionary of Ethiopian Biography, Vol. 1 ‘From Early Times to the End of the Zagwé Dynasty c. 1270 A.D.,’ copyright © 1975, edited by Belanesh Michael, S. Chojnacki and Richard Pankhurst, Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. All rights reserved.

Conservativism Now? Market Economies and the Liberal Anti-Culture

by Erik Lindberg | Not only are the liberal beliefs, expectations, and assumptions that require for their satisfaction permanent growth, material progress, and the removal of limits ultimately stronger than any countervailing care and concern, the care and concern (the part that may embrace nurture and restorative values) is unfortunately tied up in the quest for justice through material progress and removal of limits, beneath which is a void of cultural emptiness (Image: Shutterstock).

The persistent purpose of my writing over the past decade has been to reflect in a hopefully complex manner on the sort of culture necessary to “solve” the climate and ecological crisis and create a truly sustainable way of life.

One of my main themes has been that neither liberalism (nor Liberalism[i] ) is suited to that task, in large part because it is fundamentally growthist, requiring for social stability the “simple requirement,” as Franklin Delano Roosevelt put it, of “the enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.”  As David Fleming wrote, “starting some three centuries ago, the market economy has, with growing confidence, been the source and framework for a loose and easy-going but effective civil society and social order” (85).  Expansion, growth, and the promise of limitless possibility are the foundation of the “effectiveness” mentioned by Fleming.  Growth is the social glue that has held liberal industrial societies together, which is one of several connected reasons why we won’t address our relationship to our natural ecology by becoming “more liberal” or “more progressive.” Sustainability, then, is neither liberal nor progressive.

But, one might ask, why so persistent a critique of our liberal friends?  After all, they (we) seem the most inclined to pay attention to the environment, and to show care and concern for our connection to nature.  One might imagine a story about a contradiction in progressive attitudes, torn between concern and empathy, on the one hand, and growth and prosperity on the other, happily resolved as the empathetic side prevails in the face of growing awareness of the collateral damage of growth and prosperity.  Perhaps.

But my suspicion, in contrast, is this: not only are the liberal beliefs, expectations, and assumptions that require for their satisfaction permanent growth, material progress, and the removal of limits ultimately stronger than any countervailing care and concern, the care and concern (the part that may embrace nurture and restorative values) is unfortunately tied up in the quest for justice through material progress and removal of limits, beneath which is a void of cultural emptiness.  Liberalism, I will argue, is in all its facets wed to the market and market values.

In today’s thoughts, I’m going to extend both aspects of the argument that 1) liberals may be inclined to protect the environment but 2) a stronger set of wants is bent on destroying it; and I’m going to extend this by focusing more explicitly on the market economy, which forms the values both of liberal growthism and, perhaps to our surprise, is the source of liberal empathy.  Just as liberals are soft environmentalists, so also are they soft anti-capitalists.  And while political liberals can be proud of substantial gains that protect our common good from the extremes of worker exploitation and consumerism, these gains are still grounded in a Liberal faith about the market or the freedoms the market secures.  Therefore liberals (as liberals) have nothing to fall back on as a replacement for this consumerism.  Thus the gloomy state of today’s liberal politics: liberals have little substantial to fight for[ii] beyond a somewhat more fair and equitable consumerism—hardly compelling and hardly useful in the fight against the destruction of our biosphere.  Becoming “more liberal” will be of little use.

The Great Annihilation
One of the best ways to appreciate what we might call liberalism’s care and concern or protective tendencies (it’s soft anti-capitalism and nominal support of workers’ rights) is to take a brief tour of Karl Polanyi’s indispensable book, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of our Time.  Polanyi’s subject is the rise of the market society, which he traces with both historical detail and a philosophical sense of its inherent tensions and contradictions.

Of course, the rise of the market economy is hardly a story about the development of protection, nurture, or empathy.  Even before it transformed the entire surface of the globe in its pursuit of gain, early capitalist production destroyed more simple and necessary economies of basic need fulfillment, physical and social. Its first victims were the English peasantry: “at the heart of the Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth century,” says Polanyi, “there was an almost miraculous improvement in the tools of production, which was accompanied by a catastrophic dislocation of the lives of the common people” (35).  The sort of change we still think of as “improvements” or praise as “development,” writes Polanyi, “wrought unprecedented havoc with the habitation of the common people.  Before the process had advanced very far, laboring people had been crowded together in new places of desolation, the so-called industrial towns of England; the country folk had been dehumanized into slum dwellers; the family was on the road to perdition; and large parts of the country were disappearing under the slack and scrap heaps vomited forth from the ‘satanic mills’” (41).

Now, all traditional ways of fulfilling physical and social needs were uprooted and cleared away so that nothing would stand in the way of the requirements of capital accumulation. The situation was grave and untenable, as all aspects of life became servants to the “laws” of supply and demand, ruled by the mercurial sovereignty of price.  “Robbed of the protection of cultural institutions human beings would perish from the effects of social exposure; they would die as victims of acute social dislocation through vice, perversion, crime, and starvation.  Nature would be reduced to its elements, neighborhoods and landscapes defiled, rivers polluted, military safety jeopardized, the power to produce raw materials destroyed” (76).

The process was very much like that suffered by victims of colonialism in his own day, where the market’s cunning destroys the social and cultural landscape and then claims its inhabitants free: “this effect of the establishment of a labor market is conspicuously apparent in colonial regions today.  The natives are forced to make a living by selling their labor.  To this end, their traditional institutions must be destroyed and prevented from reforming” (171).  As long as traditional means of subsistence remain intact, common people will resist the compulsions of wage-labor. And so, beginning with the enclosure laws followed by a century of domestic colonial violence and disruption, were the English peasantry steadily forced into the misery of the factory or mill.

Of the pure market economy, Polanyi concludes “Such an institution could not exist for any length of time without annihilating the human and natural substance of society; it would have physically destroyed man and transformed his surroundings into a wilderness” (3).  But none of this happened, at least not yet, at least not entirely.   The market economy still stumbles on; or, some say, it has reached a global zenith, now six times as large as it was when Polanyi penned these predictions.

Liberal Equilibrium Points
Why has the market economy not yet annihilated the human and natural substance of society—or at least not entirely?  The answer to this question provides the answer to another one: namely, where did liberals (small “l”) come from?

Because, Polanyi explains, in the face of this coming annihilation “inevitably society took measures to protect itself.”   The moment it revealed its destructive force, the pure market economy was quickly transformed, sometimes fitfully and unevenly, into a managed and regulated market economy.  By ceding the “pure” part of the market economy, capitalism did steady itself, both in the last third of the nineteenth century and again after Polanyi’s writing during the middle of the twentieth century.

This self-steadying by way of regulation and management, Polanyi shows, forms most of the content of nineteenth-century British social and political history; the same could be said for the period between WWII and around 1980, though this history is still viewed mainly with partisan passion.  Most of the political and social struggles and political divisions orbited around a “double movement: the market expanded continuously but this movement was met by a countermovement checking the expansion in definite directions” (137), an ongoing “conflict between the market and the elementary requirements of an ordered social life” (257)

To our more specific purposes here, this conflict explains the great political divide within a functionally unified Liberal tradition: fostering and fomenting the expansion of the market we have the original “liberals,” those who today might be referred to as conservatives or neo-liberals.  Supporting the countermovement that checked the expansion, we have the side of Liberalism dedicated to social reform.  These were the first “progressives,” today’s “liberals.”  The proud achievement of these liberals has been the humanizing laws and regulations that have indeed relieved wage labor from much of its original misery and uncertainty.

But the more important accomplishment of liberals and progressives, may have been preventing capitalism from dying “from an overdose of itself,” as sociologist Wolfgang Streeck puts it, echoing Polanyi.

Streeck suggest that in a capitalist society such as ours, government policies have traditionally “vacillated between two equilibrium points, one political, the other economic,” thus mediating between the rights of citizens and the requirements of capital accumulation” (16, 90).[iii] The political point, or the rights of citizens, which I have been associating with liberals, concerns itself with civil rights, equality, education, housing, leisure, and a number of other needs that stand outside of a narrow understanding of the economy.  Polanyi referred to these political or social phenomena as labor, nature, and money, which can be treated as commodities and be bought and sold, but only up to a point, after which catastrophic destruction will occur.  Conservatives (who used to be called liberals and now are aptly referred to as neo-liberals) form the other equilibrium point.  They, of course, are more attentive to the economic side, arguing that without sufficient capital accumulation the whole show falls apart and that nothing should therefore stand in the way of the commodification of labor and land, people and nature.

Today, each side pursues its “equilibrium point” with unshaken confidence in the absolute rightness of its cause, wishing to vanquish their opponents who, they claim, stand in the way of progress.  But, as Streeck and Polanyi argue, it is only by finding a middle-ground or by vacillating between the two sides, never pausing too long at either extreme, that the way of life ultimately demanded by all Liberals, liberal and conservative ones alike, has been fitfully sustained.[iv]

One of Polanyi’s main arguments in The Great Transformation thus attacks the “myth of a collectivist conspiracy”—that, in other words, the rise of intervention, regulation, and reform was initiated by workers or peasants, mobilized to destroy the nascent capitalist system.  Rather, it turns out, the liberal reformers and the checks on market expansion put in place were neither external or hostile to the market economy.  Social reform grew out of the explicit and conscious needs of the capitalist, ownership class; reform and regulation have always been an integral, homegrown, part of a successful capitalist system that ensured that it would not devour itself.

The reforms these economic liberals sought may have had an underside of humanistic motivation, and may have helped create a self-conscious working class (in addition to the sympathetic bourgeois progressive); but by tracing it to its legislative roots and discursive explanation and defense, Polanyi shows that the protection of workers or the setting aside of land did not result from class-consciousness or worker self-protection.  Rather, regulation of the markets was performed out of an overriding and quite conscious goal to save the markets in the face of their destructive power, initiated by those most committed to the unrealizable ideal of the self-regulating market who traded ideals for the requirements of practical survival.  As Polanyi summarizes it, “finally, the behavior of [economic laissez-faire] liberals themselves proved that the maintenance of freedom of trade—in our terms of a self-regulating market—far from excluding intervention, in effect, demanded such action, and that liberals themselves regularly called for compulsory action on the part of the state as in the case of trade union laws and anti-trust laws” (157).  Thus did Capitalism demand of the government to pull in the slack, ensuring that they hadn’t enough rope to hang themselves.  Political liberals and progressives are in this view capitalism’s rope handlers.

The Cultural Contradictions of liberals
Liberals want (at least) two contradictory things.  But the liberal creed prevents them from making a workable choice and it is from the point of view of this contradiction that we can understand the liberal paralysis in the face of globalism, the un-regulated dominance of “tech” and social media in the lives of the middle-class, as well as the utter failure to address our growing ecological nightmare.

Polanyi’s description of the Liberal check on itself and its markets, along with Streeck’s discussion of the political and economic poles of society can thus help shed life on our current situation as well as the dull confusion involved with being a liberal today, and thus the increasingly stale fare that passes for a vision or optimism for the future, as liberals swing lazily between hope and change, Clinton and Obama, Sanders and Clinton.  Perhaps liberals will reunite in the face of Trump, but what then?

There is, of course, a “liberal class” that maintains an adversarial self-image.  I’m thinking, as one example, of the fleet of Suburu Outbacks lined up in the university parking lot proudly wearing “RESIST” bumper stickers.  No doubt resistance is necessary, but what or how is certain only in its unspecific generality, while the alternative (should one actually exist) remains a mystery shrouded in vague images of a tastefully appointed liberal utopia.  Such a statement represents a cry of discontent, an important recognition that things are not okay.  The particular complaints may be as diverse as the paint colors and interior packages Subaru offers, but aim their actionless ire towards the not insignificant but still predictable constellation projected in the shape of racial injustice, sex discrimination, economic inequality (because the lawyers and brokers make more than the professors?)[v], environmental destruction, and so on.  “Common Dreams,” which sells one version of the bumper sticker on their website says it all, when they assure us that “displaying a sticker is a small but effective means of being a part of the growing community of resistance” (emphasis added), a notion we will consider later.  This is not to diminish the anguish-filled importance of attending to children cut off from their immigrant parents, but to recognize at the same time that the entire issue has as its broader causal context the commodification of labor.

While part of this resistance is anti-capitalist, at least on a sentimental level, it is a very soft anti-capitalism, a statement more of ambivalence directed towards the true believers.  The market economy—the organization of life into working for wages and pursuing gain, buying from strangers in an endless pursuit of want-fulfillment regulated by supply and demand and thus price—is itself not at stake in liberal resistance: only several of the entirely predictable symptoms of this setup are considered.  At issue, then—and this is true of most Socialisms—is only the uneven distribution of the opportunities the market system promises and the bounty it provides.  While liberal resistors may picture themselves fighting for larger and universal goods like equality and justice for all, and against the many hurdles (often bound up in traditional prejudice) that prevent equality and justice, this is all done within the market context—a context which is never questioned.  Like its nineteenth century predecessor social reformers, even the “Occupy” movement was devoted to making the market economy work more fairly starting with a redistribution of the 1%’s sickening plunder.  But as Polanyi and Streeck point out, making it operate more fairly is necessary for it to operate at all.  Without liberal resistors, in other words, capitalism overdoses on itself—or, I would suggest, will do it sooner.

I think this view helps explain certain contradictions and tensions in the current liberal world view.  Liberals and progressives, the side interested in protecting democracy and civitas, know what to think about abortion rights, school shootings and gun control, or the #metoo movement, not to mention the science behind global warming and the vague notion that we need to “get off of fossil fuels.”  But how should we consider Wall Street and the role it plays in our economy?  What about free trade agreements and globalism that the bankers and Silicon Valley love, but that what is left of the labor movement does not?  But then again globalism may be a requirement of a cosmopolitan progressive, while the (“backwards”) rural working class, at least, is all too ready to embrace the “wrong” side of the several issues that liberals are sure about, thus the ease with which the Democratic Party has become the party of the professional class, as Thomas Frank has noted.  In the meantime, liberals know what to think about Walmart. . . but what about Target, or Amazon with its Orwellian sounding “fulfillment centers[vi]”?  What are we to think of the cheap consumer goods?  Does the activist bourgeoisie resist at the cash register, and if so, which ones?  Perhaps Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos and their wired-in and linked-up knowledge economy are the way to go.  Never mind, as someone recently pointed out, Facebook was invented by a college sophomore with college sophomore concerns.  But the good people of Google and Facebook, youthfully disrespectful of conservative stodginess, do speak out on issues of discrimination and the environment, and seem prepared to speak truth—or at least a whole lot of something else—to power.  Does the future not belong to innovators and entrepreneurs who will come up with the next great idea?

Someday it may be clear that these contradictions between the various incompatible wants of liberals signified the unravelling of a détente between the two poles of government described by Streeck.  Polanyi and Streeck would both argue that this détente was temporary at best,[vii] even without a serious or detailed understanding of the ecological limits of growth, and I think the unravelling of this détente is the best way to understand the current texture of our politics, as well as those in the European Union.[viii]  For the demands of the market and the demands of politics or social and civic life are easy enough to keep in balance when the economy is growing.  Then, profits and return on capital remains high, but not at the expense of workers’ wages and benefits.  In the absence of growth, tension turns into conflict as society and government is forced to choose between the market and ordinary people, investors and paycheck to paycheck workers.  But to make matters yet more complicated, neither that division nor the decision is very clear. After all, “people” do depend on the markets for a host of their human needs.  Of course, this dependency is historical and conditional, rather than absolute or intrinsic; but for the time being the delivery of our daily bread depends on the current state of continued capital accumulation.

One of the strategies used by industrial democracies to postpone the collapse of a workable and livable balance in the face of lowering growth rates was the development of what Streeck calls the “debt state,” which he contrasts to the earlier “tax state.”  In the debt state, as Thomas Piketty, similarly puts it, we’ve decided to borrow from the wealthy rather than tax them, a view that Hyman Minsky foresaw at the beginning of the 80s.  The debt state is able to buy capitalism time by borrowing and thus creating money earmarked for future riches, instead of redistributing real and current goods and services by taxing the wealthy.  While a tension between the two poles of government that reached its workable heights in the tax state remains visible today, it is clear that governments have been choosing markets over people in a consistent and accelerating way since around 1980.  Another name for this choice might be called neo-liberalism.

A significant task of the “knowledge economy” is devoted to making the choice of markets look like a grand historical reconciliation.[ix]

Liberal Utopia
We live in a strange time.  Confidence in the future is in decline, yet liberals are presented with two utopian options in the face of this impossible balance between the two poles of government and the increasingly self-annihilating market order.  And it is around the issue of the liberal market utopia that I would distinguish liberalism from the deep, anti-market, sustainability of something like the Transition movement.

Liberals adopt one, or a combination, of two types of magical thinking, both of which provide a fantasy of a long-term ecological, political, and economic balance between markets or capital accumulation, on the one hand, and democracy or the needs of the citizen, on the other, according to a stable production and consumption regime.  Both visions are utopian.

Some liberals expect a new technological breakthrough, or a series of super-efficiencies that will return us to high levels of growth, but without further environmental degradation or oil depletion.  This is the clean, green knowledge economy of the future.  One can merely look at the graphics on Bill McKibben’s website to get a sense of this liberal utopia, which is based largely on the contrast between old, oil-based technologies, and new, renewable ones, each carrying a set of vaguely articulated but ready moral and aesthetic associations.  Here we see mirages projecting an illusory synthesis between creative self-fulfillment and complete commodification, as work becomes recast as innovation and innovation becomes stripped of collateral damage so that its heroic entrepreneurs will miraculously create new efficiencies without uprooting and atomizing human workers.  Imagine beneath the soft hum of wind turbines fit and happy people chatting happily as they attend to their Scandinavian-designed raised bed gardens, pleased with the way they’ve maintained the benefits of globalism without its hazards.

The other utopian vision doesn’t dismiss the possibility of technological breakthroughs but is more focused on purely political decisions.  It imagines that simply bearing down on the democratic or civic aspects of our society and politics will, in and of itself, return us to this balance (which, by virtue of that view, his hardly recognized as a balance).  According to this view, the only thing wrong with our current political and economic order is the excessive focus on the market and its needs.  As Paul Krugman puts it, quoting F.D.R.’s 1936 speech accepting the Democratic nomination: “’We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.’ And that line had never run truer” (xiv).  “Good morals,” in this silly formulation which ignores the material complexities of economics, provide the necessary and sufficient conditions for a liberal paradise of permanent economic growth and fair distribution.  Why and how?  It is precisely the fair distribution, itself, overloaded by Krugman with imaginary causal weight, that makes an economy accelerate without the danger of excessive speed according to this euphoric post-Keynesianism.  If bad morals make for bad economics, then (never mind logic 101) good morals must make for good economics.  All we have to do, then, is nurture the political and social pole and the economics will miraculously recover–a view as naïve as the one, following Hayek, Friedman, and Reagan and his revolution, that holds that the only thing necessary to create political freedom is sufficient market freedom.

The important upshot of the work of Polanyi and Streeck is that the market economy is an improbable and probably temporary balance that has been maintained only under very specific conditions, two of which I’d like to isolate here.  If the market economy were sustainable, then the liberal program of resistance would, perhaps, be an adequate political guide.  One necessary condition, either way, involves the successful liberal and conservative check on each other’s more single-minded concerns.  Just as capitalism can devour itself if we let it–a message that liberals are quite prepared to hear–capitalism can also be dampered by excessive demands made upon it in the name of equality and the common good.  Polanyi could be talking about someone like Chris Hedges or even Thomas Frank when he wrote, “he did not, at that time, foresee that the self-protection of society for which he was calling would prove incompatible with the functioning of the economy itself” (135).

I hate to say it folks, but conservative marketeers are not entirely wrong when they talk about the need, from the standpoint of system-sustaining capital accumulation, that “excessive” democratic demands can upset and upend markets.  As Streeck, no friend to capitalism points out, it is possible for voters to demand “benefits and services in excess of what a democratic-capitalist economy could be made to hand over” without facing insolvency (89).  It is only within a progressive utopia free from the demands of energy, resources, and the requirements of debt and its servicing—where corporations will supply all that we want without requiring substantial profits in the face of an uncertain future–that prosperity might be entirely demand, and not supply, driven.  I don’t say this to diminish the importance of those social goods, as some liberals might interpret me, but to doubt the capacity of capitalism to maintain the profits and liquidity it requires without devouring land, people, and fomenting financial crises.  The friendly capitalism of Subaru drivers is unsustainable.

The second condition necessary for a stable balance between markets and social well-being is, as I noted earlier, the presence of steady, and perhaps relatively high, rates of economic growth.  Remove the growth and a vicious economic and political cycle begins.  As Streeck puts it, “except in special situations of very high economic growth, it would appear that the social corrections of the market that are needed to achieve political equilibrium in a democracy tend to undermine the confidence of capital owners and investors, thereby upsetting the economic equilibrium that is equally necessary for capitalist-democratic stability” (192).  Only growth maintains profits and the “wider and constantly rising standard of living” that Franklin Roosevelt declared a necessary part of a functioning democracy.  Remove the growth and you have to choose financial stability or the rising standard of living.

But, of course, this isn’t really a choice, for each remains a necessary part of the other’s continuation.  I would only underline the unfortunate fact that the market economy’s persistence, which has perhaps surprised many doomsayers, has to do with its ability to increasingly jettison the democracy and social well-being and mobilize enough of the body politic, or the part that is allowed to matter, around the primary national goal of maintaining the solvency of the debt state, in a form that Streeck refers to as the “consolidation state.”

We are now at a point where we can draw a sharper distinction between liberals, on the one hand, and Transitioners or Limit to Growthers, on the other.  Like progressives, the latter value the civic or communal, the realm of human well-being that might be threatened by unregulated markets.  In this way, many progressives and Transitioners will share similar affinities towards nature and empathy with regard to human suffering and injustice.  But there is also an important difference, at least in principle: this difference is the knowledge and acceptance that the market economy will eventually collapse (or devour us and itself)—that the market economy is unsustainable in a number of converging ways.  That means it can’t keep working.  Liberals can’t imagine how human needs (including freedom and justice) might be met without a high-surplus industrial economy whose permanence seems entirely normal (and they are not wrong to sense the difficulty and the dilemma, but without having the courage to identify it), while Transitioners know that we must find a way and do the best we can.  While liberals dream of a socially constrained, sustainable market economy, we in the deep sustainability world are willing (or should be) to let the market economy be damned.  It is not Transition that offers a utopian world view, but the liberals, for it is they who dream of sustaining the unsustainable and of balancing the contradictory, and under increasingly difficult conditions.

Our Progressive Friends
In many of my past essays I have been guilty of portraying Liberalism as a monolithic market-driven belief-system, interested in nothing more than economic growth, material prosperity, and unlimited freedoms.  I haven’t made the distinctions present in the two equilibrium points discussed by Streeck.

To cite Polanyi, Liberalism, as I have often been using the term, is best described as an outgrowth of the Industrial Revolution, “a revolution as extreme and radical as ever inflamed the minds of sectarians, but the new creed was utterly materialistic and believed that all human problems could be resolved give an unlimited amount of material commodities” (42).  I more or less stand by that definition of Liberalism, especially in our current era, especially if we add some provisions about the modern liberal “virtue” of unlimited self-creation, and the unconscious role that a high surplus society plays in most liberal wants, hopes, and expectations.

But a monolithic growthist Liberalism does, I will admit, ignore an important aspect of liberalism, namely the history of liberal reformism that has consistently sought protections against market excesses, a history that might also be considered a sort of “feeder” to movements like Transition, as well as a broad host of extra-market values that continue to thrive (if in relative seclusion from market-based norms) in liberal, industrial society.  A monolithic view of Liberalism downplays the real dilemma (unresolvable in Liberalism but still strongly felt) between the needs of the market, and the needs of people outside of the market.

Or to put this another way, I have been fairly determined in my rhetoric, at least, to call for a post-Liberalism, as if Liberalism has nothing to offer for a sustainable future.  Perhaps, in view of the history I’ve been reviewing here, the goal instead might not be to “go beyond” Liberalism, but to encourage and expand an existing side of Liberalism that already has a history of defending human needs and democratic or egalitarian values.

In practical terms this seems the way to go.  In this way we might see part of our outreach mission to nudge people towards the social, common, and human goods that many liberals identify with, slowly showing how we can preserve these extra-market values only if we start untethering ourselves from some of the comforts, amusements, safety, and convenience of bourgeois life and its market economy.  In fact, I am overstating the distinction by talking about a “we” who needs to convince a “them.”  This is as much a matter of “we” convincing “ourselves” and then learning to act on what we’ve determined.  At any rate, all this talk of post-Liberalism might be seen as unhelpful when all that is really required is to get Bernie Sanders to walk back any talk about economic growth and start thinking about progressive degrowthist liberal justice and equality.  Perhaps this is to project values on Sanders that he doesn’t actually share, but the growthist aspects of his platform sometimes appears incidental and an unnecessary part of the “real” Bernie.[x]

Culture and Community
I would admit that there is some merit to this criticism.  But I think there is an additional element at play here that bring us to the crux of my argument.  I’ve been using phrases like social, common, and communal good as if we know what they mean—as if they have a meaningful content, especially within the liberal vernacular.  The same goes for Common Dreams and its reference to a “community of resistance.” For within liberalism-proper, the social and the common good are, following classical market liberalism, other names for the opportunity to consume both life’s material and experiential goods in a fair and equitable way.  As Alasdair MacIntyre explains it, in premodern, non-liberal societies the human good is always an inherently communal or common good, while the modern liberal state is charged with “providing the arena in which each individual seeks his or her own private good” (172).   The main unit of society is the self, a self freed from limits.

“Common good” may of course refers to clean air and water, low crime rates, and intact bridges and pot-hole free roads.  But if we press on the concept with any degree of critical pressure, we will see that it mainly reverts back to the creation of a fair and equitable arena in which individuals can pursue his or her own private, individualized goods, with almost no limits—goods by definition cut off from tradition or kinship requirements. It is not clear that there is any sort of meaningful community in a “community of resistance.”  As Daniel Bell points out, our society stresses “unrestrained appetite,” celebrating those who want and demand without limits, dividing us into “consumption communities” where we create identity through buying or other consumer-like choices, otherwise known as creating a “lifestyle.”

The “good” part of common good is thus largely empty of content, and purposely and necessarily so within Liberalism.  One of the founding tenants of Liberalism is official neutrality with regard to what, following MacIntyre, we referred to as “the human good.” As Bert van den Brink explains in his excellent study of Liberalism, The Tragedy of Liberalism: An Alternative Defense of a Tradition, liberalism has two “highest aims”: “on the one hand, the politically liberal aim for state neutrality towards various conceptions of the good life and, on the other, the necessity for liberalism to affirm—both in theory and in practice—the perfectionist values of personal autonomy and a pluralist social environment” (2).

I’ll unpack these concepts by continuing the contrast I initiated above.  In “traditional” societies, recall, the “good” was generally inherited and bound up in kinship relations or a teleological conception of life as having some overriding purpose.  In most societies, it involved fulfilling a given social role with the table of virtues providing the instruction-guide for fulfilling that role with excellence and dignity.  Social practices involved cherished skill, craft and virtue of the kind we might associate with artisans or farmers.  They are passed down as a precious value, knowledge, and art, necessary not only for community survival but as a sense of cultural identity and personal satisfaction.  As Wendell Berry puts it, the common good, otherwise known as culture, “reveals the human necessities and human limits.  It clarifies our inescapable bonds to the earth and each other.  It assures that the necessary work is done and that it is being done well” (43).  Berry suggests that culture is a “practical necessity,” which it was and may eventually be again.  Though he forgets sometimes that the market society is specifically designed so that this culture is not a practical necessity.  Rather, a lack of this culture, its destruction, is a practical necessity within a Liberal market order.

For wrapped up in these notions of practice, virtue, and excellence is a conception of “the good”—namely what specific sorts of life practices, rituals, associations, and work leads to human well-being.  This is heresy within the liberal creed of choice and of fulfilling our wants whatever they happen to be, regardless of where they come from.  There are, nonetheless, modern and contemporary attempts to resurrect the sort of culture described by Berry and with it a non-liberal conception of the good.  Consider, for instance, the culture of some eco-villages, where there are very specific group goals and an overriding purpose, which ideally is reflected in nearly every aspect of life and sociability in the community, extending to child-rearing and food preparation, reuse of waste and decision-making.  Unlike liberal society, not everything goes and not all “lifestyles” are treated as morally equivalent.  The purpose of the community is not to create the free possibility for everyone to pursue their desires and wants, whatever they are and without limits.  Rather it is to foster a specific kind of culture.  This is most certainly not the mainly empty “culture of resistance” that liberals (as liberals) are able to embrace.

The cultural constraints (and benefits) similar, in structure at least, to our eco-village example used to be found throughout entire societies and continents.  This is no knock against eco-villages, but they exist in Liberal society only because their barriers to entry and exit are low enough to satisfy the demands of liberal individualism.  Otherwise, we’d consider them cults, a concept that only makes sense within a society built around individual freedom.  Prior to the seventeenth or eighteenth century, all human cultures were organized around some concept of “the good,” and one couldn’t scroll through the smartphone all day considering which “good” fits your personal style.  I’m not dismissing the sensibility of the (non) hierarchy of (non) values and (non) requirements in a pluralist society.  The “practical requirement” of culture offers no simple solutions.  But we need to back away, at least enough to set our imaginations free, from the Liberal notion that, prior to its freedoms, all of society was one big cult that everyone would have left if only they could.  This is how we modern liberals tend to judge Puritan society or Medieval culture.

So to return to our historical digest, the way that life, including economic arrangements had previously been embedded in an inherited cultural tradition all changed with the onset of the market economy, which at once disrupted these cultural traditions (creating misery and dismay) while offering a new set of incentives (with anxiety becoming a new social disease).  Liberalism, the market economy’s handmaiden, provided a new ethic based on perpetual critique of tradition.  Because tradition and its norms may attempt to prevent the commodification of some aspects of life, while putting limits on consumption and maintaining old ways of producing, tradition becomes the permanent enemy of Liberalism.  Consider, for instance, the way social mobility has, in David Fleming’s words, “become a defining ethic.  It implies that manual skills and the places left by the socially mobilier present failure.  Community is where the talented want to leave” (435).  As Defoe’s Moll Flanders put it, “with money in your pocket you are at home anywhere in the world,” and it is money, rather than culture, that “assures the necessary work is done.”

Prior to the rise of the market economy, Polanyi shows, “economy is submerged in its social relationships” (48). This means that the rules of the economy are controlled by inherited cultural values, including the means of production and the price of goods.  Now “the running of society,” he quips, “is an adjunct to the market.  Instead of the economy being embedded in social relations, social relations are embedded in the economic system” (60).  The market economy thus reverses the old hierarchy, so that economic laws of supply and demand, and pricing based on self-regulating equilibrium, provide the overriding structure of society, while the primary individual motive is one of gain and accumulation.  And because the wants and gain that provide the structure of incentive are unlimited, we see the rejection of any culture or tradition that urges moderation or that maintains a principle of “enough.”  This is true even as the market is humanized and regulated so as to keep it from devouring itself.

For our purposes and our analysis of the capacity of Liberalism and Liberals to provide social cohesion or even basic operating rules as the market economy falters, it appears that Liberalism has shed most of the cultural resources that might be of use in the absence of a stable and growing economy that has devoured all remaining frontiers and begins a steady and final diet of its own.  To put it in a way that will require some qualifications, Liberalism lacks culture, or at least a culture not “reduced to an optional spectator activity,” as Fleming puts it.

By saying that Liberalism has no culture, I’m not making a highbrow point about kitsch and commodification.  Rather I’m paradoxically thinking about Liberal culture’s response to the common idea of culture as it has evolved through most of human history. Culture is based on experience, specifically shared experience, as we collectively with both strife and cooperation, attempt to situate ourselves in relation to questions of life and death, work and leisure, rest and play, the sacred and profane, the past and future.  Because it is based on experiences and our response to them it cannot be simply created or invented (the best we can do is embed ourselves thoughtfully in experience).

Of course, members in a highly individualistic society have experiences and these experiences naturally have a degree of similarity within the broader social group as well as specific subgroups.  As Americans or citizens of industrial societies, we have stories and myths that we tell, ones that talk about our past, our present, our shared destiny or aspirations for the future.  So of course, as for all human groups, there is a culture here.   The interesting thing about these stories and myths within Liberal societies, though, is that they are dominated by the individual.  True, we may “come together” as a nation (from our normal state of separation), but unless it is to defeat an external enemy, we bond and mobilize over the shared purpose of releasing individuals from any limiting culture or community.

To put it another way, all societies have individual and collective stories.  In our society, our collective story is about the primacy of the individual and his or her solo quest for self-creation, identity, and gain. The primacy of the individual can work in a market economy, where social bonds are primarily contractual, and thus voluntary, and when the market economy is prosperous enough to keep enough money in Moll Flanders’ pocket so he will be at home as he casts about in search of gain or identity or adventure, and able to provide for himself anywhere in the world, far away from reciprocal obligations of kinship and community-based societies.

Liberal culture, then, is a sort of anti-culture because it presents us with a sort of anti-community.  Community is of course an ideal, or perhaps mainly a rhetorical place-holder, that our market-moderating liberals relish. We hear constant talk about communities in Liberal society, some rather absurd if we think about it: “the law-enforcement community,” the “financial community,” “the community of resistance,” and my favorite, “the international community.”  I don’t want to dismiss the value of our loose professional associations, our neighborhood comradery, or our self-selected friendship-groups and their capacity to create safe and caring places.

But their optional and voluntary nature (as much as we count on that with our market-based incentives and cultural training) limit the amount of social work they can perform.  The obligational and limit-setting work performed by traditional communities are precisely the same qualities that required their elimination by market forces.  Fleming again states it with lean precision: “most of us,” he notes, “face no particular challenge and well-being from our local community” (64).  But it is to that same extent that we cannot expect our local community and its culture to provide stability and order, not to mention acceptable limits, if called to do so. In a market society, the civil order is created by a set of laws distinct from morality and beyond that, mainly by prices and the contractual obligations we make to clarify our shared understanding of any given price and the scope of work or the type of product to be provided.

In contrast, a culture that can provide for substantial social order–the sort of culture we need in the absence of a well-functioning market or the one Berry refers to as a “practical necessity”–has high barriers to entry and exit.  Its bonds are just that.  They limit and control—words in the Liberal vernacular that imply injustice, even as the Liberal forgets that society does need limits, control, and order, and that those provided by the market remain largely invisible and importantly impersonal, and as if they were as ineluctable and thus as unobjectionable as gravity itself.

It is the absence of a Liberal culture—one that establishes in non-economic terms the rules of economic engagement, limits on consumption outside the demands of “consumer confidence,” or that “assures that the necessary work is done and that it is being done well” in the absence of a motive geared towards economic stability—that makes Liberalism unable to address our climate or ecological crisis or to offer a reorganizing principle as the market economy falters.  What does this mean for us?  It means that we need to start questioning liberal values and concepts such as unlimited, voluntary, and open, as crucial as they may seem to social justice as we understand it.  It also means that we need to start experimenting with concepts and values eliminated from the Liberal moral vocabulary, concepts like order, need, obligation, even hierarchy, remembering that the cultural transmission of skills and practices are based on criteria of knowledge, experience, and expertise, of master and apprentice, even parent and child–a relationship that is undergoing constant egalitarian pressure in a Liberal market society where wants and desires need to be unlimited and unfettered, even by a tradition as weak and unconstraining as the easy-going modern liberal family.

“Any society,” wrote Daniel Bell, “in the end, is a moral order that has to justify. . . its allocative principles and the balance of freedom and coercions necessary to facilitate or enforce such rules” (250).  Liberalism has ceded that function first to the market, and then to the governmental facilitation of the market, and now, increasingly, to the high finance that holds the gun of economic collapse to our heads. “With the liberal,” Polanyi adds, “the idea of freedom thus degenerates into mere advocacy of free enterprise—which today is reduced to a fiction by the hard reality of giant trusts and princely monopolies” (264).  The most the liberal or progressive can add is a small but market-dependent measure of minor restraint on the unfettered commodification of land and labor.

Old Conservatives
Alasdair MacIntyre, along with Pope Francis, David Fleming, Wendell Berry, even some aspects of Marx, might be assembled as a broad attempt to revive a notion of conservativism, a word too loaded and weighted to be used broadly without misunderstanding, perhaps, until neo-liberals and market fundamentalists relinquish its use.  But maybe we need to think about this project and start thinking about different kinds of conservativism.  As MacIntyre puts it,

The individualism of modernity could find no use for the notion of tradition within its own conceptual scheme except as an adversary notion; it therefore all too willingly abandoned it to the Burkeans, who, faithful to Burke’s own allegiance, tried to combine adherence in politics to a conception of tradition which would vindicate the oligarchical revolutions of property of 1688 and adherence in economics to the doctrine and institutions of the free market.  The theoretical incoherence of this mismatch did not deprive it of ideological usefulness.  But the outcome has been that modern conservatives are for the most part engaged in conserving only older rather than later versions of liberal individualism.  Their own core doctrine is as liberal and individualist as the self-avowed liberals.

That is why MacIntyre, Polanyi, and Fleming reach back towards the middle ages, a time subject to the disdain of Liberals matched only, perhaps, by the Liberal contempt of Puritans and their admittedly rigid (but practically necessary) communal obligations.  Perhaps, then, it is in our premodernity that we can find useful concepts and a moral vocabulary, not as an attempt to reverse history, but to escape the corroding iron logic of the market.  Instead of reclaiming a lost side of liberalism, another name for the market economy’s wing designed to protects us from market excess, we need to reclaim a lost side of conservativism, one where nurture and care existed, where limits were observed, and the necessary work was done and done well.

Read the original article published on, June 19, 2018

[i] By Liberal or Liberalism I mean the philosophy of Individual Liberalism and its several political parties and positions.   By liberal or liberalism I refer to American Democrats and those somewhat to their left as well as other people who hold similar political, moral, and economic beliefs and values.  While so-called conservatives are also Liberals of  a sort, I don’t imagine my ideas will gain much purchase with the current cohort of conservatives so direct my thoughts mainly towards liberals and progressives.

[ii] What, one may ask, about racial injustice, sex-discrimination, the cruelty of rising nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiments.  These are, I agree, certainly worthy of our vigilance and passion.  But there are two ways of addressing them: first is from the model of equitable and fair access to the market and all that it promises; second is according to an alternative cultural model of compassion that I am struggling to describe.  The immediacy of the concerns make fighting the battle within a consumerist model necessary, despite the ultimate failure of the struggle in a world of increased competition over depleting bounty.  As Fleming puts it, “we have a timing problem.”  And a timing problem requires ambivalence.

[iii] In my conclusions, I’m combining Polanyi with Hyman Minsky, in a way that Streeck does, though with a different combination of sources.  Polanyi had more faith than I that industrial production could continue in the absence of capitalist accumulation.  He understood the profit motive, but not the role played by profits in maintaining a high-surplus society.  In his view, industrial society might be able to mature beyond its growthist phase.  He maintains this view by describing economic liberalism as a utopian ideology rather than a necessary pole of industrial society.  The problem with industrial production, removed from capitalism, Polanyi overemphasizes the utopia of self-regulated markets as the center of the capitalist program.  In a way that he actually manages to explain, but not see, the value of growth and expansion may be more fundamental to capitalism as well as industrial production.

[iv] It might be argued that the Democratic party, rightly decried for its rightward moving centrism by true progressives, has in its “stand for nothing” mentality done its level best to hold on to this uninspiring mid-point, a mid-point, I will argue, and have previously, that is moving right in the face of increasingly tough conditions of capital accumulation.

[v] The quasi-symbolic and entirely semiotic nature of RESIST might be confirmed by the fact that you never see these bumper stickers on an Audi, BMW, or Lexus, but only on Toyotas (which of course owns Lexus), Hondas and of course the master trope of moderate liberal pseudo anti-capitalism, Suburus, which, that company’s Mercedes Benz driving marketers thoughtfully assure us, are made from love rather than steel, plastic, copper, glass, and aluminum.

[vi] This observation about Amazon “Fulfillment Centers” was made somewhere by Rob Hopkins

[vii] Though Polanyi is hopeful about the prospects of a managed economy that, by embedding itself in humanist values, might permit a kind of freedom similar in some aspects to the modern liberal one—as sort of permanent New Deal.  While Polanyi understands the way markets ravage nature, he seems unaware about the way industrialism does as well.

[viii] In a brilliant analysis of fascism, Polanyi argues that fascism and Soviet Communism were “rooted in a market society that refused to function” (248).

[ix] I will discuss the neo-liberal synthesis in a forthcoming essay entitled “Hegel’s Smartphone.”

[x] In his Foreword to economist Jeffery Sachs’ latest book, Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable. Senator, and hero of the American progressive class, Bernie Sanders provides a snapshot of his economic views and expectations:

What I have heard and what I continue to hear is that Americans have had enough of establishment politicians and establishment economists who have claimed for far too long that we must choose between economic growth, economic fairness, and environmental sustainability.  They have sold us a bill of goods that says we can’t have all three.  Well they are wrong. (ix-x)


Bell, Daniel. 1996. The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. New York: Basic Books.

Berry, Wendell. 1977. The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.

Fleming, David. 2016. Lean Logic: A Dictionary for the Future. Edited by Shaun Chamberlin. White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green.

—. 2016. Surviving the Future: Culture, Carnival and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy. Edited by Shaun Chamberlin. White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green.

Frank, Thomas. 2016. Listen Liberal, or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People. New York: Metropolitan Books.

Hedges, Chris. 2010. Death of the Liberal Class. New York: Nation Books.

Krugman, Paul. 2007. The Conscience of a Liberal. New York: Norton.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. 1981. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. London: Duckworth.

Minsky, Hyman. 1982. Can it Happen Again? London: Routledge.

Pinketty, Thomas. 2014. Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge, MA: Belknap.

Polanyi, Karl. 2001. The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of our Time. Boston: Beacon Press.

Sachs, Jeffrey D,. 2017. Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable. New York: Columbia University Press.

Streeck, Wolfgang. 2016. How Will Capitalism End. London: Verso.

Erik Lindberg received his Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature in 1998, with a focus on cultural theory. After completing his degree, Lindberg began his career as a carpenter, and now owns a small, award-winning company that specializes in historical restoration. In 2008 he started Milwaukee’s first rooftop farm, and was a co-founder of the Victory Garden Initiative, as well as a member of Transition Milwaukee’s inaugural steering committee. He lives in Milwaukee with his wife and young twin boys.

How to Build Strong Multi-Cultural Churches

by Rev. Sunday Bwanhot | Pastor, ECWA Church, Chicago | We must have policies that allow “none indigents” to be engaged in ministry at all levels and be elected into different offices within the ECWA Structure

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” 11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” Rev. 7:9-12

The chief end of man and all creation is to worship God thereby bringing glory to God.

The Great Commission is about making disciples of all nations (ethnos- people groups).

The Church is God’s instrument to make this happen. So, building strong multi-cultural churches is not man’s idea, it is God’s express will.


Simply put: Believers of different cultural backgrounds worshiping together in one place. These different cultures may be of the same ethnicity or of different ethnicities. This is God’s plan that will culminate in the Revelation 7 experience.

Naturally people of the same race or tribe hang out together and systematically exclude others who are not like them. But the church of God is called to pull down all barriers that separate and differentiate us. This has always been a challenge which each generation must face and overcome.

Although all of Jesus’ disciples were of Jewish cultural background, the Holy spirit launched the Church in a spectacular way by bringing people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds together as recorded in Acts 2. The Church that was birthed represented the community around it.

The Jews were very reluctant to integrate other cultures and ethnicities, they wanted to maintain their mono-cultural identity. God had to get to work to change that mindset. He was not going to allow His church to be limited to or be defined by one cultural group or ethnicity. He created all cultures and ethnic groups and He wants all to worship Him together as part of the one family of God.

Acts 10 expose how God finally dealt with the ethnocentric posture of the Jewish believers. “Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” Acts 10:34-35. Later on, Paul declared in Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It is clear then that God’s plan for His church is to accommodate all people of all cultures and backgrounds.

It is to be noted that there will be mono-cultural churches is some situations like rural communities where all the community members are of the same culture.

There will be need for a mono-cultural church in cities also where immigrants into the city cannot communicate in the main spoken language. First generation immigrants benefit from the mono-cultural church. However, such churches must work toward being multi-cultural, else they will not grow much and they will lose their young ones who may not be interested in learning the language of their parents.


  1. Be convinced that this is God’s plan and work toward it.
  2. Pray for God’s revelation of how your church can make the transition
  3. Prepare your congregation for the change which could take a long time and could be painful
  4. Study, preach and teach the Bible always rather than talking much about your culture or church denomination.
  5. Language is a strong tool that connects people – use the main language everyone speaks.
  6. Have a parish mindset for your church. Reach out to everyone in the community where your church is, rather than just inviting people of your cultural background.
  7. Adapt to the community where you are – become all things to all people… Some aspects to consider are: dressing, language, time orientation, style of worship, etc.
  8. Be involved in the community in other ways and not just on spiritual things
  9. Show that you are for everyone and not just for some.


  1. Acts 6 reveal how it can get messy when different cultural groups worship together. A proper balancing act is needed.
  2. Cultural pressure can be very strong. Peter shied away from the Gentiles to please his fellow Jewish believers; Paul had to rebuke him Galatians 2:11-13
  3. Acts 15. The Jerusalem Council had to come up with new policies that addressed the concerns of believers from other cultural backgrounds.
  • Churches need to have right policies that welcome people of different backgrounds
  • Majority culture should always be ready to make sacrifices to accommodate the minorities
  • It is important to not only integrate but also treat everyone fairly and equally.
  • Give leadership responsibilities to minority cultures also.


Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) – if we are going to be the kind of church God wants us to be, which we also want to be, we must follow the 9 steps given above and in addition: update our constitution, manuals, and handbooks to be a true reflection of a church that is global and welcomes all cultures. We must have policies that allow “none indigents” to be engaged in ministry at all levels and be elected into different offices within the ECWA Structure. Church planters need to be trained and equipped to start churches with the mindset of growing multi-cultural churches and not mono-cultural churches. It is easier to start a multi-cultural church than to convert a mono-cultural church into a multi-cultural church.

May ECWA be a church that anybody from any ethnicity, or cultural background can walk in and feel at home because we are all about Jesus and not so much about culture or denomination. Amen!

Rev. Sunday Bwanhotby Rev. Sunday Bwanhot is EMS/SIM Missionary. He serves as Team leader of SIM Culture Connexions; Pastors of ECWA Chicago.

The Idea of a Christian Soul and Its Intelligibility

by Christopher Hauser | The Dartmouth Apologia | What separates us from animals? The traditional Christian belief was that we have souls and they don’t, but that is now largely disappearing, at least in popular conception. Also, the way that modern science has developed in the field of psychology or neuroscience – we’ve started to realize that a lot of the things we might have once attributed to the soul or mind we can now understand in terms of biology, for instance: subjects can be given stimulus and made to think of things and brain scans can be done which suggest that we can pinpoint what’s going on.

Dr. Mark Harris is a professional physicist, ordained minister, and lecturer in the Religion and Science program of The University of Edinburgh’s Divinity School. As a physicist, Dr. Harris is known (along with Steve Bramwell) as the discoverer of “spin ice,” a model system that has had a dramatic influence on research in magnetism. As a theologian, Dr. Harris engages the overlap of the theological and scientific worldviews, particularly concerning issues such as creation, miracles, and the topic of this interview, the idea of the soul.

Dr. Mark Harris

Dr. Mark Harris | Edinburgh Research Explorer | The University of Edinburgh

What are the contemporary way(s) of understanding the soul? Could you touch on the idea of “substance dualism,” as well as the layman’s understanding of the soul?

“Soul” is a very common word in English. We use it for all sorts of things generally to mean either the living essence of a person or whatever it is that contains the “real” them. We might talk about 100 souls lost at sea, meaning living human beings, or I might talk about my soul as being the deepest, most important part of me, where everything, my deepest values and feelings, reside. I do think we’ve become rather confused about it, though, lately. This is certainly the case for those of us in the West who are influenced by Christianity – we tend to understand it in very religious terms. And we often think of it in the terms you just mentioned – “substance dualism,” the idea that I am made up of two distinct entities, namely flesh and spirit or body and soul. And of course there is some toing and froing about whether spirit and soul are the same thing or distinct. But if we were to use that understanding of soul, namely substance dualism, we would typically think of my soul as containing the essential me, particularly after my death, that is, as carrying an immortal quality to it. It doesn’t need to be in close contact with the body, but it can live on. Many people might think of the afterlife as souls going to heaven.

Now this idea is often connected with Descartes – “I think therefore I am.” Here, the mind/soul contains the most important aspect of me, that which will live on after my body. But of course this idea goes as far back as Plato and perhaps earlier if we dig around in ancient myths. (Plato believed in the immortal soul and thought that physical reality was in some sense a lesser reality than the world of ideas and spirits). But in all of this there is great uncertainty about the soul, just as there is for the whole human condition when the mind is in consideration, thanks to things like evolutionary biology, for instance, which has taught us that we are animals like others (we might think about Desmond Morris and his famous study, “The Naked Ape”). Studies like this might lead us to questions like do animals have souls. Many people say they do, and there are religious traditions like Jainism which believe they do.

What separates us from animals? The traditional Christian belief was that we have souls and they don’t, but that is now largely disappearing, at least in popular conception. Also, the way that modern science has developed in the field of psychology or neuroscience – we’ve started to realize that a lot of the things we might have once attributed to the soul or mind we can now understand in terms of biology, for instance: subjects can be given stimulus and made to think of things and brain scans can be done which suggest that we can pinpoint what’s going on. And the same studies have been done for people who are praying. There is a sense in which the religious part of me can have a wholly biological explanation. And this leads to all sorts of questions and uncertainties about what exactly the soul is.

Do you see any problems with this notion of the soul from a philosophical point of view or from a Christian point of view?

I would say to that that it depends on your cosmology. With the advent of modern science, we have developed over the past few hundred years a very materialistic cosmology where everything is ultimately open to empirical verification or testing. There isn’t a single door in the universe that can’t be opened, that we can’t knock on it and find out what’s behind it. And so from a scientific point of view, we feel like the soul really ought to be in our grasp in scientific terms too. And the fact that it really isn’t, that we are still talking about a concept that we can barely even define, suggests that there is something deeper here. Similar questions arise when we start to try to talk about even more fundamental aspects of me that don’t have a religious connotation, things like mind and consciousness. The kinds of questions we’ve been asking about the soul turn out to be almost the same as people, including scientists, are currently asking about the mind: what is the mind and what is its relationship to the physical brain, or what is consciousness?

We are all aware that we are conscious beings – it is one of the most distinctive things about us. It seems to be the distinctive aspect that separates us from other animals. But what exactly is consciousness? There are as many answers are there are people working on it. It’s one of the great scientific mysteries of our day. The more we try to understand, the more problems arise, and the soul is right in the middle of this because it is effectively the religious dimension of our consciousness (or that’s the way I’m explaining it at the moment). The philosophical problems of the soul arise from that fact that we’ve inherited this Christian tradition where the soul is my religious dimension, the quintessential me, and yet science has brought in at the same time a much more materialistic view of cosmology which seems contradictory. Again, the soul is effectively in the middle of this.

Now, from a Christian perspective, I know some people feel very threatened when you suggest something like “the soul doesn’t exist.” It’s almost tantamount to saying something like “salvation doesn’t exist” or “God doesn’t exist.” You’re just made up of atoms, cells, and chemicals; there’s no part of you that can be saved. This is how some people read this. However, one of the things that theologians working on this have realized is that we are actually rediscovering the worldview of the Bible.

The ancient Hebrew anthropology, in which most of the Old Testament arose, didn’t really believe in the soul as a disembodied entity but instead saw the whole human being as a single material whole. If the Old Testament speaks of “soul,” it generally tends to mean “that being endowed with life, with God’s breath,” or it might sometimes mean “the essential me” but understood as a physical me. So the idea that you want to split the human being up, into two different parts, a physical part and a soul part, is largely alien to the worldview of the Bible.

In many ways, what we’re doing in asking questions about the soul and raising the status of the physical through science is essentially getting back to what the people of the Bible knew. And that is why a lot of the theological writings around this will talk about the circular historical narrative, whereby we are rediscovering what the people of the Bible always knew, that the human being is a living whole. When dead, we are dead. We have to wait for resurrection. And there is a sense in which too strong a belief in substance dualism weakens the idea of resurrection at the heart of Christianity. The Church has over the last two thousand years struggled with this: the Hebrew notion that the human is one living entity which will hope for resurrection from God, but at the same time this more Greek idea that there is a spiritual reality which will always live on.

I think you’ve raised some of the important issues surrounding the topic. In particular, you’ve highlighted the importance of the doctrine of resurrection, a doctrine which figures centrally in many controversies in the history of the Church, for example, that of the Cathar heresy in the 12th century or the Gnostics in the early Church, where the goodness of the material world was challenged. What about the Church Fathers? How do their views of the soul differ from these contemporary ones?

When I speak of the Church Fathers, I mean those Christian theologians from the time of what is often called the “Apostolic Fathers,” extending from the beginning of the 2nd century, after the New Testament was written, up to about the 5th century Council of Chalcedon, when the nature of Christ as having a human and divine nature was settled in at least one part of Christianity. This was the classical age when most of Christian theology was fought over and formulated. And of course, the idea of the soul is a very central idea. The historical narrative tends to see our idea of the soul as crystallizing during this time. At the beginning of this period, most Christians came from a Jewish background and tended to have a monist understanding of the soul, meaning that the human being is one physical entity and that we hope for resurrection from God. But by the end of this period the Church found itself in a state where it believed in the immortal soul, as well as the resurrection of the physical body, and therefore theologians had to try to reconcile this by talking about the soul existing apart from the body and being rejoined to the body at the resurrection, thereby introducing a sort of intermediate state when the two are separated. This was a way of bridging the gap between the Hebrew anthropology and the Greek anthropology.

Now that’s the way that the historical narrative tends to work, but when you start to look at the writings of individual Church Fathers, you realize that they were actually much more subtle and sophisticated than this historical narrative suggests. In the fourth century, quite a lot of theologians sprouted up asking questions about this topic in light of the condemnation of the teaching of Apollinarius, who had denied that Jesus had a human soul. It was mostly agreed that Jesus had a soul (especially after the condemnation), but there was a need to explain just what that meant.

Gregory of Nyssa (c.329-389/90) wrote a whole treatise on the subject of the soul and resurrection, wherein he went into great depth about what it means to have a soul and to say that I will be raised from the dead. He tended to see the soul in metaphorical terms as a way of speaking about the human being in religious terms, but he is hard to pin down – at times, he seems like a substance dualist but at others times talks as if the soul is just the body talked about from a religious angle. One of the ideas he is best known for is (in Greek) epektasis, the ascent of the soul, and he wrote great mystical works about the ascent of the soul toward God. You can almost read this as if it is a kind of spiritual journey which has no bearing on my body at all, but when you look closely you realize that he is talking about an embodied journey, an ascent which happens in this life as much in the next. So, his idea of salvation is not being something that you just win, that you are suddenly granted so that one day you are not saved and the next you are, but is instead a state of becoming, a gradual process that we are always going through in this life and the next too.

His friend Gregory of Nazianzus (c.335-c.395) was very keen on the idea of the soul and said in response to Apollinarius that we must keep the soul because the soul is the battleground for salvation; it is where sin is effectively to be found in the human condition. If you take away the soul, there is nothing for Christ to save me through. Thus, he tended to see the soul as the interface between the human being and God, and the dividing wall which Christ needed to break down in order to solve the problem of sin and to bring salvation to humans.

As you mentioned earlier, it seems that many people today think of the soul as a kind of mystical reality or as just a kind of metaphor for their emotions or identity. Whether coming from an atheistic perspective or a theistic perspective, the soul is seen as this reality which we can’t really grasp in the same way that we grasp most of the other things we talk about. What do you think about this? Can the idea of the soul be built on more solid foundations than that? Is there an intellectual justification for the idea of a soul, or is it is really just this mystical, unseen reality? Or is there a way to reconcile these two answers?

I myself don’t believe in the soul. I don’t think it exists as a thing-in-itself. And I have come across many Christians who feel very threatened by this position. They can’t imagine how a Christian or a theologian could possibly say you don’t have a soul. Nonetheless, I still use the language of “soul” because I find it a very useful metaphor for talking about me from a religious angle, and this is how I read Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus. What I take away from them is their deeply spiritual theology about the human being searching for God, ascending towards God, being the battleground for salvation, while all still happening in the body. I like their use of the term “soul” as a way of describing this while not necessarily thinking of it as a thing-in-itself, that is, the kind of thing that can be pried away from my body. And so, I use the term as the best term we have to denote that mysterious interface between us and God. I’m not much of a dualist at all: I don’t tend to believe in the existence of a world of spirits, another dimension of reality I can perceive only “through the glass darkly.” I tend to think there is the physical world and there is God the Creator, and we exist in relationship with that God. My soul is effectively the bridge, what we call in the science of religion, “the causal link” between God and the world, between Creator and creature.

But is there justification for using that word? Christians often seem to be afraid of science when it comes to things like the soul. Can science, for example neuroscience, prove that there’s no such thing as the soul? From the atheist perspective, there seems to be a “case closed” mentality because we can supposedly explain all these things without appeal to a “soul” or at least will be able to do so in the future after more scientific discoveries. From the Christian perspective, there is a knee-jerk fear that science could disprove the existence of the soul. How should we view developments in scientific inquiry about such matters, committed as they are to some idea of the soul?

Well, we have to consider how we define the term “soul.” Often times it is connected to a religious context, which is why atheists are suspicious of the term. On the one hand, if we understand the soul from a religious angle as being a human person in supernatural or spiritual existence, then there’s nothing science can say one way or the other concerning it because science doesn’t have the tools to go into that dimension, if you like. And this is exactly the kind of argument that is often used against “New Atheism”: science may be able to explain a lot of what we see, touch, taste, etc., but that doesn’t mean that’s all there is. This same argument can be applied to the question of the existence of the soul.

On the other hand, the fact that modern cognitive a biological research and neuroscience have done an awful lot to understand the brain suggests that everything that once was attributed to the soul can be understood in physical terms, which suggests that the term soul or the idea of a soul as a separate thing is becoming redundant. But I personally think, hearkening back to the Church Fathers, that there is always a case for viewing the human person from a religious angle and then soul is a useful piece of terminology. Even setting this aside, one of the things that is particularly interesting is that whilst a non-believer might have great problems with the term soul because of its religious connotations, that same person is usually very comfortable talking about his or her own consciousness or own mind, and yet science can do little to prove that we have anything of the sort, apart from our neurons, synapses, cells, etc. that science can talk about it. So, consciousness is in effect a pseudoscientific concept that we cannot describe in scientific terms and perhaps, as some cognitive scientists argue, will never understand in scientific terms.

Thus, we have ideas of things like consciousness that look rather like the idea of the soul. And so to answer the specific question of whether science has disproved the idea of the soul, I think the answer is no, and I can’t see any reason why it ever should. On the other hand, science allows us to use language more carefully and I’d love it if we one day understood consciousness more completely and I’m sure that would allow us to define our terms more carefully. But at the moment it’s very mysterious, just like the soul.

So, in one way, then, there is room for encouragement, even from the religious perspective, since we are breaking away from a concept of the soul as an independent reality disconnected from the physical world. For it may be that by moving away from a concept of the soul that isn’t actually that useful, we can now talk about it in a way that doesn’t threaten Christians since they’ve always believed in the resurrection of the body.

One of the great weaknesses of the dualistic understanding of the human being is that, taken too far, it ends in pure Gnosticism or Manichaeism. Essentially, this is the idea that physical reality is evil and that we must retreat to the ivory tower of the mind away from an evil material world and find salvation in an escape from the world. One of the things that I think we’ve discovered, rediscovered really, in recent years through this emphasis away from the immortal, immaterial soul and back on the full reality of the physical human condition, is the idea of incarnation, that God came to be a part of this reality that we feel and hear and touch and see, not as something ethereal locked in an ivory tower.

So in abandoning substance dualism, should Christians feel like they’ve found a desperate escape from modern critiques, or is this really rather a recovery of what Christianity has always taught?

Theology operates in a very different way from science. Science can make what appears to be objective progress, allowing us to understand more and more of the natural world over time. Theology, however, operates in a reflective mode, meaning that there is a certain body of data (Scripture, Church tradition, the writings of the Church Fathers, etc.) and one is constantly reinterpreting this in each successive generation. One way of looking at this is to say that we have rediscovered an angle that was understood 2000 years ago, but in another way we have advanced, deepening our understanding of that ancient idea and science has helped us in this.

Read the original article in Augustine Collective: The Dartmouth Apologia

Dr. Christopher Hauser is a professional in the area of Philosophy and History. His Specialties includes Metaphysics, History of Metaphysics, Ethics, and Philosophy of Religion among several others. You can reach Christopher via

Why the #MeToo Movement Is Doomed to Fail

by John Horvat II | What determines if something is moral today is not the nature of the act but the degree of consent to it. This single shift has done much to destroy traditional morality. Perhaps the greatest victory of the Sexual Revolution was to create the illusion that any sexual relationship outside marriage is acceptable as long as it is consensual. (images: South Korean women supporting the MeToo movement attend a rally to mark the upcoming International Women’s Day in Seoul. Credit:  Ahn Young-joon/ AP)

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal brought home just how our attitudes about sexual relationships have become dangerously trivial and mechanical. It showed how we have lost the sense of decency, morality, and shame.

The article reported on new apps that allow those who engage in casual relationships to tell each other what level of intimacy they would like to practice. The uConsent app, for example, is a digital way for people to give their consent to avoid misunderstanding or legal action afterward. The app has no other purpose than to facilitate acts once deemed immoral and sinful.

It is not so much the app that is shocking but the callous way in which it is presented. It assumes universal promiscuity on all social levels is the norm. The conservative business journal validates the practice by reporting on the app like any other new product or transaction. The same article gives guidelines for determining consent while engaging in relationships almost as if giving advice on how to avoid catching a common cold.

Thus, the hook-up culture is accepted by everyone, not just Hollywood or rock stars. Even the establishment’s staid paper now publishes news reports that fail to question the propriety of such harmful trends. The nation’s business and political leaders should be moral role models. Instead they treat casually the moral destruction of what is left of Christian civilization.

The Abolition of Objective Moral Standards
This can happen because the concept of morality has changed. What determines if something is moral today is not the nature of the act but the degree of consent to it. This single shift has done much to destroy traditional morality. Perhaps the greatest victory of the Sexual Revolution was to create the illusion that any sexual relationship outside marriage is acceptable as long as it is consensual.

The consequences of this conclusion are enormous. Our hypersexual culture exerts immense pressure on people to conform to this norm. Sexual relations have thus gone from procreational to recreational activities open to all. As long as consent is obtained and no one is hurt, anything goes.

The Demise of Decency
This has led to the demise of decency since nothing is considered grossly improper and offensive anymore among consenting adults. It has destroyed social norms since everyone must accept this behavior lest they be deemed judgmental by criticizing what others have agreed to do among themselves. Those things that were once whispered about with shame are increasingly accepted openly without question.

This is especially true in the current political climate of polarization. Opposing parties are looking for ways to expose the indecent acts of opponents. They are finding this harder to do since the nature of the act no longer causes a public outcry. Lack of consent, however, still does.

Thus, newspapers, websites and magazines now carry stories that were once reserved to the tabloids. Even prostitution can dominate the headlines and is accepted as long as it is consensual. Today those accused of adultery or aberrational behavior do not deny their acts but justify them as consensual.

#MeToo Will Fail
This lack of moral standards has prepared the way for the #metoo movement and ensures its failure. Many have suffered from sexual abuse. This needs to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Immoral behavior, harassment and indecency are always wrong.

However, the #metoo movement is not about a return to decency or morals. It conserves the right to promiscuity with consent. No one is talking about going back to restraint and objective standards of morality. Most of those involved find nothing wrong with the casual consensual sexual relationships that can set the stage for abuse.

The problem is compounded by the fact that we have created a society of consent, in which the least signal can lead to unintended acts. So the more promiscuity there is, the more the idea of consent itself is clouded and being disputed. Hence, the need for apps.

And yet so sacred is the right to unlimited promiscuity, that four states—California, New York, Connecticut and Illinois—have passed laws that require schools to teach students what affirmative consent is. Everything is done to facilitate unrestrained sexual relationships. Even the introduction of apps is designed to make the matter effortless and mechanical.

Doomed to Fail
The tragedy is that such lack of restraint by its very unbridled nature will sooner or later lead to coercion. Unrestraint accepts no limitations. When all teach when yes means yes, they abandon the only foolproof remedy: no means no.

Thus, the #metoo movement will never resolve the problems it claims to address. It is a recipe for disaster. Unless it denounces the hook-up culture, it will merely reduce consensual promiscuity into acts of mechanical consent.

By failing to uphold the standards of decency and morality, it throws down the natural barriers that hold back the unbridled passions and prevent #metoo from happening. It perpetuates the myth that consensual promiscuity brings happiness. This is continuously proven false by the countless irregular relationships that ruin lives, families, and communities.

Return to a Moral Order
The only definitive solution is a return to a moral order that naturally regulates the passions and prevents abuse. There was a time not that long ago when sexual relationships outside marriage were frowned on as immoral. They were sinful because they abused the God-given primary purpose of such acts—procreation. Shame was attached to those with loose morals.

That time is gone, and we are paying the price. Everyone is talking about abusive sexual relationships and harassment, and yet they throw away the natural safeguards that prevent this abuse. No one is talking about the real issue of the nature of acts. Until this happens, #metoo is doomed to fail. No app will remedy the situation.

John Horvat II is the Vice President of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property and the author of the recent book Return to Order.

Thinking Theologically About Memorial Day

by Kevin DeYoung | Today there are more Anglicans in church in Nigeria than in England, more Presbyterians in South Korea than in the United States. The promise to Abraham way back in Genesis is that through his family God would bless the whole world. Christianity is not tied to just one certain nation. Following Christ is not an ethnic thing. You can be from any country and worship Jesus..

With Memorial Day on Monday (in the U.S.) and, no doubt, a number of patriotic services scheduled for this Sunday, I want to offer a few theses on patriotism and the church. Each of these points could be substantially expanded and beg more detailed defense and explanation, but since this is a blog and not a term paper, I’ll try to keep this under 1500 words.

1. Being a Christian does not remove ethnic and national identities.

In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free (Gal. 3:28), but this does not mean men cease to be male or Jews ceases to be Jewish. The worshiping throng gathered around the throne is not a bland mess of Esperanto Christians in matching khaki pants and white polos. God makes us one in Christ, but that oneness does not mean we can no longer recognize tribes, tongues, nations, and peoples in heaven. If you don’t have to renounce being an American in heaven, you shouldn’t have to pretend you aren’t one now.

2. Patriotism, like other earthly “prides,” can be a virtue or vice.

Most people love their families. Many people love their schools, their home, and their sports teams. All of these loves can be appropriate. In making us for himself, God did mean to eradicate all other loves. Instead he wants those loves to be purer and in right proportion to our ultimate Love. Adam and Eve should have loved the Garden. God didn’t intend for them to be so “spiritual” that they were blind to the goodness around them. In the same way, where there is good in our country or family it is right to have affection and display affection for those good things.

Of course, we can turn patriotism into an idol, just like family can be an idol. But being proud of your country (or proud to be an American or a Canadian or a Russian or whatever) is not inherently worse than being proud of your kids or proud to be a Smith or a Jones or a Dostoevsky. I find it strange that while it is fashionable to love your city, be proud of your city, and talk about transforming your city, it is, for some of the same people, quite gauche to love your country, be proud of your country, and talk about transforming your country.

3. Allegiance to God and allegiance to your country are not inherently incompatible.

Sometimes Christians talk like you should have no loyalty for your country, as if love for your country was always a bad thing. To be sure, this must never be ultimate loyalty. We must always obey God rather than men. But most Christians have understood the fifth commandment to be about honoring not only your parents but all those in authority over you.

Moreover, Jesus shows its possible to honor God and honor Caesar. This is especially clear if you know some of the Jewish history. The tax in question in Mark 12:1 is about the poll tax or census tax. It was first instituted in AD 6, not too many years before Jesus’ ministry. When it was established a man by the name of Judas of Galilee led a revolt. According to Josephus, “He called his fellow countrymen cowards for being willing to pay tribute to the Romans and for putting up with mortal masters in place of God.” Like the Zealots, he believed allegiance to God and allegiance to any earthly government were fundamentally incompatible. As far as they were concerned if God was your king, you couldn’t have an earthly king.

But Jesus completely disagreed. By telling the people to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” he was saying there are duties to government that do not infringe on your ultimate duty to God. It’s possible to honor lesser authorities in good conscience because they have been instituted by a greater authority.

If you read all that the New Testament says about governing authorities in places like Romans 13:1 and 1 Peter 1:1, you see that the normal situation is one of compatible loyalties. The church is not the state and the state is not God, but this does not mean the church must always be against the state. In general, then, it’s possible to be a good Christian and a good American, or a good Ghanaian or a good Korean. Patriotism is not bad. Singing your national anthem and getting choked up is not bad. Allegiance to God and allegiance to your country do not have to be at odds.

4. God’s people are not tied to any one nation.

When Jesus says “go ahead and give to Caesar what belongs to him” he is effectively saying, “you can support nations that do not formally worship the one true God.” Or to put it a different way: true religion is not bound with only one country. This means-as we see in Revelation 7:1 and Isaiah 49:1 and Psalms 87:1 and Matthew 28:1and Acts 1:1 and a hundred other places-the Church will be transcultural and transnational.

While American churches are in America, they must never be only American churches. We must keep in mind (and when applicable, explicitly state) that our congregations are filled with brothers and sisters from all over the world. Likewise, we must work hard to help people see that Christianity is not just a Western religion or American religion. Christianity started in the Middle East and quickly spread to North Africa, and parts of Asia and Europe. The Church was always meant to be international. Today there are more Anglicans in church in Nigeria than in England, more Presbyterians in South Korea than in the United States. The promise to Abraham way back in Genesis is that through his family God would bless the whole world. Christianity is not tied to just one certain nation. Following Christ is not an ethnic thing. You can be from any country and worship Jesus.

5. All this leads to one final point: while patriotism can be good, the church is not a good place for patriotism.

We should pray for service men and women in our congregations. We should pray for the President. We should pray for the just cause to triumph over the evil one. We are not moral relativists. We do not believe just because all people are sinners and all nations are sinful that no person or no nation can be more righteous or more wicked than another. God may be on America’s side in some (not all) her endeavors.

But please think twice before putting on a Star Spangled gala in church this Sunday. I love to hear the national anthem and “God Bless America” and “My Country, Tis of Thee,” but not in church where the nations gather to worship the King of all peoples. I love to see the presentation of colors and salute our veterans, but these would be better at the Memorial Day parade or during a time of remembrance at the cemetery. Earthly worship should reflect the on-going worship in heaven. And while there are many Americans singing glorious songs to Jesus there, they are not singing songs about the glories of America. We must hold to the traditions of the Apostles in our worship, not the traditions of American history. The church should not ask of her people what is not required in Scripture. So how can we ask the Koreans and Chinese and Mexicans and South Africans in our churches to pledge allegiance to a flag that is not theirs? Are we gathered under the banner of Christ or another banner? Is the church of Jesus Christ-our Jewish Lord and Savior-for those draped in the red, white, and blue or for those washed in the blood of the Lamb?

In some parts of the church, every hint of patriotism makes you a jingoistic idolater. You are allowed to love every country except your own. But in other parts of the church, true religion blends too comfortably into civil religion. You are allowed to worship in our services as long as you love America as much as we do. I don’t claim to have arrived at the golden mean, but I imagine many churches could stand to think more carefully about their theology of God and country. Churches should be glad to have their members celebrate Memorial Day with gusto this Monday. We should be less sanguine about celebrating it with pomp and circumstance on Sunday.

Kevin DeYoung (MDiv, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) is senior pastor of Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina, board chairman The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. He has authored numerous books, including Just Do Something. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children.


President Trump Cancels North Korea Summit

by Dr. Jim Denison | Denison Forum on Truth and Culture | The threat of North Korea is just one of the challenges we face as a nation (Images: Getty Images).

Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting. Therefore, please let this letter serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place.”

With these words, President Trump notified Kim Jong Un yesterday that he was canceling their June 12 summit in Singapore.

This decision followed a series of ominously worded statements from North Korea. Their senior envoy for US affairs had threatened to call off the summit and warned that their regime could “make the US taste an appalling tragedy it has neither experienced nor even imagined.” The envoy also described Vice President Pence as a “political dummy.”

The White House says back channels for discussions with North Korea are still open but states that the regime must first change its rhetoric.


A “challenging threat environment”

The threat of North Korea is just one of the challenges we face as a nation.

Russia is believed to have 4,300 nuclear weapons, followed by the US with 4,000. There are 9,400 nuclear weapons in military arsenals, with another 5,600 awaiting dismantlement. Nearly 4,000 nuclear weapons are operationally available; 1,800 are ready for use on short notice.

The largest Russian bomb, if dropped on New York City, would kill 7.6 million people.

In addition, China is expanding its economic and military power and influence. Proxy wars in the Middle East involving Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel threaten to escalate.

Dan Coats, the US Director of National Intelligence, testified earlier this year before a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: “We face a complex, volatile and challenging threat environment. The risk of interstate conflict is higher than any time since the end of the Cold war–all the more alarming because of the growing development and use of weapons of mass destruction by state and nonstate actors.”

A nation worth protecting

The challenges of our day show why the men and women of our military are so important to our nation. More than 1.4 million Americans are serving on active duty today. Each of them has taken an oath to defend each of us.

Over America’s history, more than 1.1 million men and women have fulfilled that oath at the cost of their lives. Their memory lives in our gratitude. All we do this Memorial Day weekend to honor their sacrifice is so much less than they did to deserve it.

How does God want us to observe this important tradition?

One: Minister to the families of fallen soldiers. Scripture tells us that “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). He wants us to be the presence of Jesus as we serve and pray for those in grief.

Two: Pray for wisdom for our military and civilian leaders. In these perilous times, claim the biblical promise: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God” (James 1:5).

Three: Pray for peace among nations. Pray for Kim Jong Un and other world leaders to follow Jesus. Make Paul’s prayer yours: “May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way” (2 Thessalonians 3:16).

Four: Make America a nation worthy of their sacrifice. When I meet military veterans, I tell them that our nation owes them an unpayable debt. They often respond by encouraging me to make America a nation worth dying for.

Scripture calls us to set the example: “Be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15).

“An estate to be preserved”

Noah Webster has been called “the father of American scholarship and education.” On the twenty-sixth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, he delivered a remarkable oration in which he pointed to the values and examples of the patriots whose sacrifice purchased America’s freedom.

At one point, he turned to “the youth of our country, who were not spectators of the distresses of the war.” His charge to them is just as relevant for us: “Let them consider that upon them has devolved the task of defending and improving the rich inheritance, purchased by their fathers. Nor let them view this inheritance of National Freedom and Independence, as a fortune that is to be squandered away, in ease and riot, but as an estate to be preserved only by industry, toil and vigilance.”


For more from the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, please visit

Herdsmen killings: Why we disobeyed CAN’s protest directive – ECWA President

by The Eagle Online | Gado said of the CAN directive: “They are on their own.”

The National President of the Evangelical Church Winning All, Dr. Jeremiah Gado, has distanced the church from the protest embarked upon by members of the Christian Association of Nigeria against the atrocities of Fulani herdsmen in the country.
Gado said of the CAN directive: “They are on their own.”
On Sunday, major streets in Jos, the Plateau State capital, were shut down as over 2,000 members of ECWA Goodnews Church took to the streets because of the protest.
The protesters, led by the Senior Pastor, ECWA Goodnews Church on Ahmadu Bello Way, Jos, Rev. Joshua Tuwan, took the decision in reaction to the directive of the President of CAN, Dr. Samson Supo Ayokunle, and General Secretary, Dr. Musa Asake.
But Gado said the protest by his members amounted to illegality because “ECWA is not answerable to CAN”.
According to him, ECWA and the Chairman of CAN in Plateau State, Soja Bewarang, had jointly decided to opt for prayers and not protest.
He said: “We are not answerable to CAN.
“ECWA members are answerable to me, the ECWA President.
“Had we been properly consulted, we would have supported and come out enmasse.
“It was poorly communicated and poorly coordinated.
“That is the problem.
“It was done in a hurry.
“CAN didn’t do a good job.
“Those who protested in ECWA did that in reaction to CAN directive, but they never heard from their leaders.
“So, those who did it are on their own.
“The protest was against the killings by suspected herdsmen because of a call by CAN but we were never consulted.
“So, some people decided to do things on their own.
“We in ECWA are bothered by the killings, but what we wanted was to use the Sunday, as we have declared April 27 to 29 as days of prayer and fasting for the release of a female student of Government and Science Technical College, Dapchi in Borno State, Leah Sharibu, who is still in Boko Haram captivity.
“We wanted to keep it at that when CAN issued a press statement without calling us.
“I concluded with the Plateau State CAN Chairman (Soja Bewarang) and we agreed that we are not going to be involved in the protest but pray.
“And if there is going to be protest, it should be well coordinated so that it will have the desired effect.
“It is not that I am against the CAN protest, it is just that it was poorly communicated and poorly coordinated.
“ECWA didn’t issue any directive for protest.
“ECWA members should listen to their leaders.
“That is us and not the (national) leadership of CAN.”
Bewarang confirmed that Plateau State CAN and ECWA have opted of the protest, but insisted on prayers and fasting.
During the recent visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to Jos in March 2018, Bewarang had been condemned for his utterances during the Town Hall meeting where he endorsed the re-election of Governor Simon Lalong for the 2019 general election.
According to him, tithes and offerings in churches had improved because the government had been very friendly.
Bewarang said: “The person who told you (that we didn’t protest), must have told you why.
“You have contacted people and they have told you.
“Since you have heard from the ECWA President, then you have heard from an authority.
“CAN wanted to us into what they wished.
“But we chose to pray rather than demonstrate. Prayer is more than demonstration.”
When asked if the decision he took does not amount to going against the directive of CAN national leadership, Bewarang said: “Well, that will be your interpretation.
“You can say anything.“Did CAN national leadership tell you that we went against their decision?
“I protested in my house.”
While condemning the ongoing attacks, in which two Reverend Fathers were killed in Benue State, the protesters, including men, women and youths, had also demanded the release of a female student of Government and Science Technical College, Dapchi in Borno State, Leah Sharibu, who is still in Boko Haram captivity.
After church service, the protesters took over the ever-busy Ahmadu Bello Way in Jos with repeated shouts of: “Enough is enough.”
Radical Senior Pastor of ECWA Goodnews Church, Rev. Joshua Tuwan, who led the protest, said several excuses being spewed out by the Federal Government had shown that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari “is clueless about governance.”
Tuna therefore called on Nigerians to vote out the present government of the APC in the 2019 general elections.
According to him, as far as history is concerned, the city of Jos remained the umbilical cord of the gospel in Northern Nigeria.
He said: “Significantly, we are part of CAN and the ideals for which they stand, which is justice and righteousness.
“We have decided to come out because we feel we have been quiet for a very long time.
“We elected the leadership of the present government because we believe in them.
“We came to the conclusion that three years is enough to get results.
“And the fact that no result is coming out but only in the media with continuous killings in tens and twenties, calls for serious concern.
“Enough is enough.
“That is why we feel compelled in our conscience not to be quiet about the things that are happening in our country.
“We all know, three years back, we stood and voted this government into power with the full understanding that they were going to turn the situation for all Nigerians.
“But the reverse is what we are seeing.
“The many excuses that the government has advanced have shown clearly that they are clueless about governance.
“If one of the most important thing a government should do, which is the protection of lives and property, and for three good years this country will be held by few individuals that are yet to be identified with their names, then something is wrong.
“I remember the former Head of State of Nigeria, late General Sani Abacha.
“He said if any problem will last more than 24 hours, then the government is part of it.
“Abacha is dead, but the truth remains truth.
“We have discovered that this problem is taking a dimension to eliminate certain group of people and these people are identified collectively by what they believe in.
“We stand to oppose and to tell the world that this government must rise up to its responsibilities and ensure that the culprits behind the killings are arrested.
“We want them to be prosecuted, if this government means serious business or else since 2019 is coming, Nigerians should show them the way out.
“We want to say something, this is religious.
“For you to declare that a group of collective students are taken away and for all to be free with one (Leah Sharibu) kept and that person is a Christian, we want members of the National Assembly, the State Houses of Assembly and indeed every person that there is truth and we want the truth to stand out.
“The situation appears as if everyone is caged.
“But we believe that our freedom is just by the door.
“We want Leah Sharibu to be out.
“We do not understand what is going on in the hearts of the parents of the Chibok girls.
“These girls were abducted because of their faith.
“If this government is not religious, let them produced these girls.
“We will continue to shout, let the security agencies begin and start picking us up.
“Let us see if there are no citizens, whether there will be government.
“Everyone is scared, but we believe that freedom is just by the door.”


Being ECWA Today: ECWA Identity and Sense of Belonging in Christ in an Age of Challenge

by Emmanuel Datiyong Akanet | Reclaiming ECWA Believers’ Identity and Sense of Belonging in Christ: A Problem of Christian Identity
Download Reclaiming ECWA Believers’ Identity and Sense of Belonging in Christ
I had the privilege of participating in the Lord’s ministry in Nigeria for twenty-eight years before I came to Asbury Theological Seminary in the fall of 2004, and I realize that the Lord enables me to serve better in the areas of teaching, preaching, and writing Christian literature. I served as a teacher and principal in one of my denomination’s Bible schools as well as pastoring several churches at various locations and times.

A mission body known as the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) founded the denomination to which I belong: the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) back then but now known as the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Nigeria. My previous observations and experiences as well as the history of the church shows that early congregations started on a solid foundation, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, with a desire to grow towards maturity in Christ. At the beginning believers were known for what they profess to be believers in Christ otherwise called “Christians.” They were not afraid to share their faith with others in obedience to the Lord’s command to preach the gospel to all nations of the world (Matt. 28: 18-20). They were continuously striving and engaging in Bible studies, evangelistic activities, and constant fellowship in community settings. They collaborated with the missionaries in building and sustaining the body of Christ.

Nevertheless, the time came when missionaries handed over the church leadership to nationals who followed the examples set forth by the founding fathers. The work continued well. Leaders gave their time and resources in selfless service in the Lord’s vineyard, and the congregations trusted them and their leadership. Fifty years after the handover to the nationals, several problems seem to have crept into the life of the church. The spiritual state of believers appears to be declining, and some of the leaders seem to be deviating from the mission of the church which is to glorify God in life and service. Sensing the problem is what prompted me to be devoted in preaching, teaching, and writing.

This report includes a brief history of Nigeria and the church, biblical and theological foundations for the research, a literature review on leaders, leadership tasks, leadership approaches, the qualities, competencies as well as the spirituality required of a leader. The ministry intervention aimed at helping ECWA believers reclaim their identity and sense of belonging in Christ and to one another. Assessments confirmed the existence of spiritual decline among ECWA believers and the need for leaders with spiritual vision and direction to lead the church in reclaiming ECWA believers’ identity and sense of belonging in Christ and to one another. The ministry intervention of this research was designed with a need for spiritual and visionary leaders to provide learning environments that would facilitate a learning process in helping ECWA believers reclaim their identity and sense of belonging in Christ and to one another. This need, which has been a burden upon my wife and I, led us into starting a Servant Leadership Ministry to the disable persons, widows/widowers, orphans, senior citizens, and the poor in Madakiya community in which we were brought up and to which we belong.

Ministry Intervention
The distinctly Christian response to any need is a ministry response (i.e., a servant response). Jesus conceived of his own ministry as a response to specific human need. He articulated this construal of his ministry in his explanation of his unconventional behavior of “eating with tax collectors and sinners” (Mark 2:13-17). He responded to questions about this behavior in terms of the link between human need (the “sick” and their need of a “physician“) and his own purpose (why he “came” [Mark 2:17]). Similarly, in his programmatic statement summarizing his whole ministry, he claimed he had come “not to be served but to serve” and to “give [his] life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Therefore, a most fitting response to the perceived need in ECWA is along the lines of the following design, judging from the research.

Encouragement from Greater Africa and a Testimony
The need for trans-formative leaders seems to be of great concern among many ecclesiastical leaders in many African countries. Other Africans are leading awakenings like that proposed in this study. Two ministry initiatives that are taking place in Africa today encourage one to think that a ministry intervention of the sort here proposed has, by God’s grace, a reasonable likelihood of success.

Calembo’s International Leadership Institute of Southern Africa (ILISA)
A premier example of these African ministries is the International Leadership Institute of Southern Africa founded and led by Alfred Calembo. His ministry aims at recruiting and training potential leaders who would also train others in their localities. The ministry appears to be flourishing, apparently meeting well the needs of adult learners and meeting perceived leadership needs. Calembo demonstrates the servant leadership attitude needed to be able to influence leaders in a community. His ministry is administered at the national and international levels. Its main aim is influencing the direction of his denomination by shaping leaders who would go and shape others, too.

The core values of Calembo’s ministry emphasize the importance of visionary leadership, relevant evangelism, stewardship, and leadership multiplication processes that seek and train men and women who, in turn become leaders of leaders who will effectively train others. According to Calembo, the curriculum emphasizes the importance of character and integrity because credible leaders exert greater influence on their followers. His ministry focus is based on:

  • Training and mobilizing leaders of leaders,
  • Evangelization and Church planting,
  • Ministering to HIV/AIDS, widows/orphans and vulnerable children,
  • Community health,
  • Education, and
  • Economic empowerment and emergency food relief

Producing leaders with a vision such as Calembo’s who will lead transformational learning programs like his is the goal of this proposed ministry intervention. Calembo exemplifies the fruit anticipated when ECWA believers find their identity and sense of belonging in Christ and to one another.

Akanet’s Servant Leadership Ministry
My own experience encourages me to think that new awareness of ECWA’s identity in Christ, of belonging to Christ and to one another, can take hold across the denomination from national to local grassroots levels to energize and shape local ministries and Christian witness. Based on my understanding of the gospel, which offers full liberation from the ravages of sin and the call to Christian leadership as a call to serve, my wife and I started a “servant leadership ministry” in the community in which we were raised. This ministry extends God’s grace and love to the disabled, the sick, the less privileged, and to HFV/AIDS victims and other needy persons within the range of our influence. The ministry focuses on the following:

  • To support and encourage young widows struggling with young children ages 1-15;
  • To support and encourage disabled persons and the disadvantaged to be self-supportive and self-reliance;
  • To support and encourage young persons in leadership positions to strive towards excellence, able to balance their lives between family and ministry demands;
  • To encourage and support senior citizens who have no relatives to support and care for them.
  • To help and support the sick who have much difficulty or no means of getting medical care; and,
  • To provide economic empowerment and emergency food relief to the diverse groups as described above.

The ministry is microcosm, done in a neighborhood environment that could be done at regional and national levels. However, the success and positive response to our limited efforts has encouraged me to think similar ministries could be creatively replicated in many local ECWA congregations. The spirit and direction of the holistic ministry could also set the tone and direction for national and regional leadership and would be a harbinger of spiritual renewal in ECWA.

Connect with Emmanuel Datiyong Akanet @datiyongx

The Radical Christian Faith of Frederick Douglass

by D. H. Dilbeck | The great abolitionist spoke words of rebuke—and hope—to a slaveholding society. (image: iStock)

As Frederick Douglass looked out on the boisterous crowd that had gathered to celebrate America’s independence, he thought of Psalm 137.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land? (v. 1–4)

The Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society had invited Douglass to deliver the keynote address for their Fourth of July celebrations in 1852. Fourteen summers earlier, Douglass had escaped from slavery. Now, at only 34, he was America’s most famous abolitionist orator.

Douglass usually felt a certain anger and sadness on the Fourth of July. That day, as he stood behind the speaker’s lectern, he felt like an Israelite in exile called upon to sing for his Babylonian captors.

The crowd wanted him to venerate the Founding Fathers and celebrate their heroic deeds. At the start of his speech, Douglass seemed happy to oblige. But those who listened closely might have shifted uneasily in their seats if they noticed how Douglass used the word your. He spoke of your independence, your freedom, your nation, your fathers. The Founders succeeded in creating a new nation, Douglass said, “and today you reap the fruits of their success.”

To the slave, Douglass told his white audience, “your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mock; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.”

He reserved his harshest judgment for the nation’s churches. Nearly every white Christian either defended slaveholding or refused to speak against it. Douglass ridiculed their pretensions to righteousness with a warning from Isaiah: “And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood” (1:15, KJV).

Forgotten Prophet

February marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Douglass. Born a slave on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Douglass fled to freedom in 1838 and became a champion of liberty and equality.

In his 77 years, Douglass delivered thousands of speeches. He published three autobiographies. He founded and edited newspapers. He attended the first great women’s rights convention, in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. He met with President Abraham Lincoln to lobby for emancipation. He championed the cause of African American civil and political equality after the Civil War. He lived to see the tragic onset of Jim Crow and fought the oppressive system of racial segregation, disenfranchisement, and violence until he died in 1895 (a year before the notorious Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine).

Yet there’s a side of Douglass that’s not often remembered or celebrated: his radical Christian faith. Douglass was a kind of prophet crying in the wilderness of Christian slaveholding America. It’s no coincidence that in the most famous speech of his life—“What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”—Douglass quoted the prophet Isaiah at length. He aspired to speak to America as biblical prophets once spoke to their people: with words of warning and rebuke, grace and hope.

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann has written that ancient Hebrew prophets “nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture.” They offer “an alternative perception of reality,” one that allows people to “see their own history in the light of God’s freedom and his will for justice.”

Douglass tried to do the same thing in his long struggle against bondage. Slavery, as an elaborate system of racial oppression, offered a flawed “perception of reality,” a poisonous account of who we are as human beings and how we ought to live together. Douglass spent a lifetime pleading with white Christians, as members of the dominant culture, to acknowledge how thoroughly slavery had distorted their view of reality and kept them from loving as Christ loves.

He had no illusions about the possibility of eradicating all evil and fully realizing the kingdom of God on earth. But, in hopeful anticipation of a world without slavery, the prophetic Douglass implored his fellow Christians to hew to the narrow path of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.

‘Not Color, but Crime’

The crucible of Douglass’s prophetic Christian faith was his childhood suffering as a slave. Before his escape at age 20, Douglass witnessed and endured great cruelty, especially at the hands of Christian masters.

Young Douglass spent most of his earliest childhood days on the sprawling plantation of the Lloyd family, one of Maryland’s wealthiest slaveholders. There, Douglass first saw the grotesque violence and depravity that accompanied slavery: brutal whippings, cold-blooded murder, the daily trials of physical and psychological abuse.

Early one morning, Douglass woke to the desperate cries of his aunt Hester. A 15-year-old girl of striking beauty, Hester had been courted by Ned Roberts, a Lloyd family slave. Aaron Anthony, the slavemaster, commanded Hester to stop visiting Ned, but she continued, which incited Anthony’s rage. When Douglass peered out of his bedroom, a closet in the Anthony kitchen, he saw Hester stripped to the waist, her wrists bound together and fastened to the ceiling above her head. Anthony cursed Hester as he methodically delivered blow after blow with his three-foot-long cowskin whip. Blood flowed down her back as she pleaded for mercy. Douglass watched in terrified silence as Anthony delivered 30 or 40 lashes, before untying Hester and letting her body fall bloody and exposed on the kitchen floor.

How is a child, no more than six or seven, supposed to make sense of such violence? Douglass was a bright boy, so he soon asked the hardest questions: Why am I a slave? Why must slaves like Hester endure such pain, even unto death? Where is God? Why is he silent in our suffering?

Douglass suspected that the answers he heard from white southern Christians could not be right. How could God, in perfect wisdom and goodness, have made black people to be slaves and white people to be masters? Perhaps, he thought, it “was not color, but crime, not God, but man” that created slavery.

In 1826, Douglass was sent to Baltimore to live with Hugh and Sophia Auld. Late one Sunday night, he woke to the sound of Sophia, a devout Methodist, reading from the first chapter of the Book of Job. Douglass heard about a man who feared God and eschewed evil yet still lost everything—his livestock, servants, and children. Half-awake under a table on the Auld floor, Douglass decided he had to know more about this man Job—how he could say, despite his suffering, “blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Sophia began to teach Douglass the alphabet, but Hugh forbade the lessons. So Douglass secretly taught himself, laboring over well-worn and well-hidden copies of Webster’s spelling book and Methodist hymnals. By the time he was 13 or 14, he could capably read and write. Soon after, he formally converted to Christianity, shepherded by free black Methodists. Within the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Douglass first learned that there might be more to the call of Christ than the proslavery gospel he had heard his entire life.

Salvation, though, came slowly. For several weeks, tortured by the knowledge of his sin, Douglass remained “a poor, broken-hearted mourner, traveling through the darkness and misery of doubts and fear.” But once he cast all his cares upon God, Douglass wrote, he found faith in Christ as “Redeemer, Friend, and Savior.”

Not long after, in March 1833, Hugh Auld unexpectedly sent Douglass back to the Eastern Shore. For the next three years, Douglass labored for the first time as a field hand, physically and spiritually exhausting work. During this time, he saw just how completely slaveholders distorted the Christian faith to justify their violence and oppression. His most outwardly religious masters were the most depraved in their cruelty.

On Sabbath mornings, Douglass often stood on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay and gazed upon the white sails of vessels that traveled the globe untrammeled. The sight tormented him. One Sabbath, in his misery, with no audience but God, he cried out a psalm of lament: “O, why was I born a man, of whom to make a brute! The glad ship is gone; she hides in the dim distance. I am left in the hottest hell of unending slavery. O God, save me! God, deliver me! Let me be free! Is there any God? Why am I a slave?”

In his brokenness, comfort slowly came. Douglass’s sorrow that morning transformed into hope for deliverance. He felt God’s presence and resolved on the banks to do his part to win his freedom: “I will run away. . . . God helping me, I will. It cannot be that I shall live and die a slave.”

Douglass took few possessions on his long journey to freedom. He left behind his chains, but not his prophetic Christian faith that first took root in slavery. At the foundation of that faith rested certain assurances: that God suffers with the oppressed and will not tolerate injustice forever; that slaveholders perverted the Christian faith in their religious justifications of oppression; that Christ, in bidding all to come and die, offers a new way to live, radically different from the world’s hatred and violence.

‘The Christianity of Christ’

Douglass would settle in New Bedford, Massachusetts, hoping only to earn a fair wage as a caulker. But he soon gravitated toward the abolitionist movement. He avidly read William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator, the nation’s leading antislavery newspaper, which “took its place with me next to the Bible,” Douglass wrote, because of its bold condemnation of “hypocrisy and wickedness in high places.”

In 1841, Douglass became a paid lecturer of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. The society’s president offered Douglass the job after hearing him make an impromptu speech at an abolitionist rally. Douglass would now make a living traveling through the North, telling the story of his life and denouncing slavery and its defenders. His task was to convince Americans to see the antislavery cause as a great moral necessity. To that end, he repeated a chastening refrain: “Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.”

Douglass delivered this message to greatest effect in his first autobiography, the iconic Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Published in 1845, the book was an instant hit, selling 30,000 copies within five years. Douglass’s Narrative is one of the great texts of the black prophetic Christian tradition, full of scorn for religious hypocrisy and oppression but also full of hope that Americans might still commit themselves to the path of true righteousness.

In the famous “Appendix,” Douglass condemned the “corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity” everywhere present in America. As Douglass knew from direct experience, the cruelest slaveholders were also often the most ardent churchgoers. “The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday,” Douglass scoffed, “and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus.”

But the tragedy went deeper than the fact that individual slaveholders professed Christianity while failing to live up to Christ’s commands. Every believer shared that failure. Far worse was how, at an institutional level, slavery and the Christian church—in the North and South—remained inextricably connected. “The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master,” Douglass lamented. The slaveholder fills church coffers with gold, and, in turn, the pastor “covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity.”

Douglass then quoted from Matthew 23, where Jesus Christ calls the scribes and Pharisees “whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (v. 27, KJV). Douglass insisted that Christ’s words held true for “the overwhelming mass of professed Christians in America.” Slaveholders and their apologists “attend with Pharisaical strictness to the outward forms of religion, and at the same time neglect the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.” They had utterly abandoned the true Christianity of Christ and invited the wrath of a just and avenging God.

Hope of Redemption

Douglass rejoiced in 1865 when the Union triumphed in the Civil War and the nation ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery forever. But he did not believe his prophetic work had ended. At the end of his life, equality under the law remained an aspiration, not a reality. African Americans and women were denied the right to vote. The ghost of slavery lived on in oppressive economic arrangements like sharecropping. Jim Crow carved rigid lines of racial segregation in the public square. White mobs lynched at least 200 black men each year in the 1890s.

He had good reason, then, in 1889, to mourn how the “malignant prejudice of race” still “poisoned the fountains of justice, and defiled the altars of religion” in America. Yet Douglass also rejoiced in the continued possibility of redemption. A new way of seeing the world, and living in it, still remained—one that rested, Douglass said, on a “broad foundation laid by the Bible itself, that God has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth.”

In these unsettled times, it’s only natural to want to summon Douglass from the grave—to have him speak directly to the particular problems that still fester at the intersection of race and religion in American life.

That desire reminds me of a story about a great 20th-century American historian, Don Fehrenbacher. As the story goes, he once was lecturing in Boston during the mounting crisis over forced busing to integrate public schools. After his talk, a man asked, “What would Abraham Lincoln say about busing?” Fehrenbacher replied: “I think he would probably say, ‘What’s a bus?’ ”

Douglass’s America is not our America. A chasm of historical change separates us, much of it nearly unimaginable when Douglass died. And yet, we’re still heirs of the history Douglass faced and forged. The “malignant prejudice of race” lives on, a mockery of our common Creator and the likeness of the God we share.

If he could stand before us today, I doubt Douglass would presume to offer simple solutions to our racial dilemmas. But I suspect he would remind us of the promise made in Isaiah: “Cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (1:16–18, KJV).

D. H. Dilbeck is a historian living in New Haven, Connecticut. This article is adapted from his book, Frederick Douglass: America’s Prophet (The University of North Carolina Press).

The Defective Love of Judaic Law (OT)

by Prof. Dr. Pr. Jairo Goncalves (December/2017) | The “defective Law of Moses” never perfected anything (Heb 7:19; Heb 8:7). The Law of Moses contains “shadows” (Heb 8:5-7, 10:1, Col 1:17) and “Jewish fables” (Titus 1:14, Isa 45:7, Prov 16:4, Prov 22:2).

The Law of the Lion of Judah (VT) commands: “You shall love your friend and hate your enemy” (Mt 5:43; Ps 139:22; Ps 3:7). The Law of the God-Abba-Lamb (Gal 4:6; John 1:29) states: “Love your enemies; do good to those who mistreat you; love as Christ the Lamb loved you (Mt 5:44, Lk 6: 27,35, Jn 15: 12-14). “Husbands, love your wives as Christ the Lamb loved the Bride Church (Eph 5: 25-28).

The “defective Law of Moses” never perfected anything (Heb 7:19; Heb 8:7). The Law of Moses contains “shadows” (Heb 8:5-7, 10:1, Col 1:17) and “Jewish fables” (Titus 1:14, Isa 45:7, Prov 16:4, Prov 22:2). Christ-Lamb began his ministry here on earth by rebutting the Law of Moses and the diversion of the Jewish lineage (Mt 5:21,27,33,38,43;etc; Jn 6:60,66; John 8: 39-44 ). Christ-Lamb was condemned to death because he prophesied the destruction of Solomon’s Temple (Mt 24: 2; Mt 21:42); called the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites (Matthew 23:13), scandalized the disciples of Moses (John 6:61 Mt 26:31) and stated that the Jews are “children of the devil” (John 8:44). equal to all other human beings not yet converted (Rom. 3:23; 1 Cor. 15:22; John 1:12). But, unfortunately, the “Churches” of Brazil and the World follow the Old Testament and the Law of Moses to build their temples, their altars and to carry out the priestly offices. More information and arguments in the warrior book: “Gospel of the Glory of the Cross of Christ – All Truth”.

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The Line between Pride and Confidence

by Ryan Denison | Denison Forum on Truth and Culture | Pride and confidence cannot both exist in the same person. Pride is an overestimation of yourself; confidence is the result of a right understanding of your abilities and limitations. Consequently, prideful people are in constant need of justification to maintain the facade that they are something greater than their reality.

Unfortunately, confidence is an elusive goal for many people. And that’s because we fundamentally misunderstand the way it works.” So describes Quartz’s Melody Wilding in a fascinating article about why so many struggle with their sense of self-esteem and how the key to confidence often lies in failure as much as success.

Wilding writes of how many parents in the 1980s and 1990s worked to instill self-confidence in their children through participation awards and constant praise—earned or otherwise. The reality is that because parents helped their kids avoid failure rather than learn from it and work to become better, many of those children now struggle to build confidence on their own. As a result, we live in a culture where many either wrestle with self-doubt or overcompensate through baseless pride.

That latter temptation is especially troubling because the line between pride and confidence is often hard to discern.

As Christians, we are well aware of the dangers pride poses. So how do we live with confidence in who the Lord made us to be without crossing that line? The key is understanding where confidence ends and pride begins.

Pride and confidence cannot both exist in the same person. Pride is an overestimation of yourself; confidence is the result of a right understanding of your abilities and limitations. Consequently, prideful people are in constant need of justification to maintain the facade that they are something greater than their reality.

However, confidence does not require that sort of justification because it is already a correct view of one’s abilities and character. As a result, the confident person can be humble when the prideful person cannot because his or her limitations are not threats to be dealt with but limitations to be explored and improved upon. When we can view those aspects of our lives that need improvement as an opportunity rather than a danger, it’s a good sign we’re on the right path.

Part of the reason we’re told to base our identities in Christ is that a right understanding of how he sees and loves us despite our flaws enables us to have confidence without pride. We can see our shortcomings and deal with them without feeling that they threaten our sense of identity because that identity is already fixed in a right understanding of who we are in relationship to the Lord.

Unfortunately, many of us are frequently more proud than confident of who we are in Christ because we have yet to take that next step of allowing our identity in him to become the defining characteristic of our lives. But we’ll never be able to consistently and appropriately deal with our shortcomings until admitting them doesn’t threaten our self-image.

Paul is a good example of this balance. There are many times throughout his letters where he seems almost arrogant about his relationship with the Lord, telling the people of Corinth to imitate him as he imitates Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1) and describing all the reasons he has to be confident in his standing with the Law (Philippians 3:4–6). What keeps him on the right side of that line, however, is his understanding that any good in him is the result of Christ’s presence in his life (Philippians 3:9). As a result, he’s confident and secure enough to deal with his shortcomings and learn from his past in order to become a more effective ambassador for the kingdom in the present.

So, are you proud or confident today? Scripture is clear that we have every reason to be confident in who we are as Christians because, more than anything else, we are the beloved and valued children of God. Failure to live up to those standards will always be part of our lives this side of heaven, but sin is most destructive when we allow it to eat away at an identity that is safe in our Savior’s hands.

Will you live with that confidence today?

Please visit for more from the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture.

A Response to Enemies of the Faith

by Anthony Esolen | For the person whom we show to be ignorant is not the only one in the picture. When in doubt, err on the side of gentleness, and never resort to cheap abuse. Keep the truth in mind, and then fight as well as you can (images from Inspiration Ministries).

Charlie Brown and Linus are sitting on the floor, looking at something in a book and laughing. Lucy comes up to them and asks what they are laughing at. They show her, and she asks, “Why are you laughing at it?”

“Because we don’t understand it,” they say.

In old days, people among the intelligentsia who rejected the Christian faith were not entirely ignorant of what they were rejecting, even if they were usually also not deeply learned in Christian history, art, literature, philosophy, and theology. Sometimes they were learned, as was Henry Adams, who compared the cathedral to Our Lady at Chartres favorably to the “dynamo,” the most impressive invention on display at a great scientific exposition in Paris. Sometimes, like the sad and humane Matthew Arnold, they knew that the Christian faith had brought to the world the highest and noblest morality that man had ever found, and they wanted to preserve and even enhance that morality, if such a thing were conceivable, even while they could no longer accept the faith itself. Sometimes they were embittered enemies, like Nietzsche, who still understood, though in a monstrously distorted way, the grandeur of the God whose death they declared.

None of that is true now. None of it. We must say it to ourselves over and over. The enemies of the faith are no more learned than are all too many of our fellow believers. One Ta-Nehisi Coates, a self-described atheist, and a recipient of a popularly called “genius award” from the MacArthur Foundation, caused something of a stir a year ago when he admitted, without embarrassment, not only that he had never read Saint Augustine, but that he had never even heard of him. The self-styled “new atheists” do not read Thomas Aquinas, or John Henry Newman, or Etienne Gilson, or anybody, except perhaps once in a while in snippets detached from the whole and misunderstood. It’s downhill from there, if you are talking even about college professors in the humanities, let alone professors in the usually hostile social sciences, professors in other fields, school teachers, television personalities, journalists, and everybody with a computer and an account on social media.

We would be far better off with people who had never heard of Jesus Christ, and who would therefore approach our faith with some humility and care, just as any ordinary thinking person would do, upon encountering a culture that was utterly foreign to him. Instead we are dealing with people whose brains are filled with scraps and rags of what used to be the faith, and who therefore think they know all about what they have never bothered to investigate at all. Worst among them are those who went to a Catholic school, as I did, and picked up a small bundle of moral laws, tarnished, bent, and broken, without any connection one to another, to the human good, or to the nature of God himself. As they see it, they are in the know.

The danger that these people pose to our young people is severe, and not ever to be underestimated. We know, for example, that very few people are ever moved to accept the faith as a result of rational demonstration. Pascal understood this—Pascal with the relentlessly mathematical mind, who, as his sister writes of him, played with conic sections when he was a small boy. “When they do help some people,” says Pascal of the metaphysical proofs of God’s existence, “it is only at the moment when they see the demonstration. An hour later they are afraid of having made a mistake.” And even when they assent to the validity of the proof, that is not sufficient; that is not the virtue of faith. Satan knows that God exists, and knows it to his burning rage and despair.

But the converse of this truth is that people will lose their faith also not by rational demonstration, but by appeals to their feelings, by the powerful motion-in-inertia of the crowd, and by such things as ridicule. For a good man can hold his head high in noble suffering, and pride himself on his faithfulness; ridicule is harder to endure than the scourge. Ridicule rips the heart out of a young person. The young man who would bloody his knuckles in a fight for the faith may hang his head in shame when his friends laugh at him. The young woman who in a better time would inspire others with the nobility of her virtues and the purity of her love, will wilt like a flower in a dry land when her friends aim at her the barbs of false compassion for sinners and sentimental approval of their sin, letting her know without needing to say it openly that she would be contemptible if she did not go along with them on their sweet LOL way to vanity and delight.

How do we arm them, then, for the battle as it actually will be engaged? You do not send somebody into the field with bayonets when the enemy has hand grenades. You do not suit up with shoulder pads and a helmet for a basketball game.

My readers here may have many suggestions, born from their own experience in the battle, and they are most welcome to make them public. I have one here—one among many, but I have time only to mention this one. I give it with some hesitation, because it makes all the difference whether we are arguing with someone directly and not in public, or rather arguing publicly on behalf of one of our fellow Christians, or on behalf of the faith itself. It must also be done with some care, with some eloquence and poise, lest the weapon backfire. The suggestion is that stupidity and absurdity must be exposed as such.

Let me illustrate. Someone says that we should not force our morality down people’s throats because of some “archaic sky-god” we believe in. Such a person is massively ignorant. Christians do not believe in a “sky-god,” and indeed that is the very point of the first verse of Scripture: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” He created the heavens; the sacred author mentions the sun and the moon as mere instruments for bestowing light upon the earth, and not as divinities, and mentions the very stars as if they were afterthoughts. No Christian has ever believed that God dwelt in the sky. That sky may well be used as a feint, hardly even an image, of the “heaven of heavens” that is the presence of God; it is natural in man to do so. But God has placed his throne no more in the sky than in New Jersey, or rather he is infinitely present everywhere in his creation, in New Jersey no less than beyond the Milky Way. When Dante has ascended with Beatrice to the final sphere, the Empyrean, she is careful to say to him that this ring has no location but in the mind of God. All “where” and “when” spring from this place that is no place and this time that is no time, because it comprehends all place and all time.

So we might train ourselves and our children to answer back: “Tell us, since you know it so well, where in the New Testament the Father is said to dwell in a sky, or where Saint Augustine says that God is hovering over our heads? Or tell us, since you know, what sky-god it was that Father Georges Lemaitre believed in? Do you not know who Father Lemaitre was? He was Einstein’s friend, and the first proposer of what we call the Big Bang theory. Did you not know this? About what other great fields of human thought and human culture do you deliver your sentences of contempt, without knowing anything about them? Do you treat Chinese culture the same way, without knowing anything about it? Do you treat other human beings the same way, whom you have never met? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”

Or I hear that the moral teachings of the Church are “archaic.” Not old and venerable, even, but archaic, like a horse and buggy, or windmills. What is meant, of course, is that the Church’s sexual teachings are archaic, because, well, people want what they want and don’t care too much how they get it. How to respond?

We might do so in this vein. “I was not aware that human nature had changed. When did it do that? Or is human nature different also from one place to another? Does right turn into wrong and wrong turn into right when you cross a time zone? Does right turn into wrong and wrong turn into right when your odometer flips to 100,000, or when you tear off a certain month from your calendar? But assuming you are right, and we are now so enlightened in this particular feature of human life, where is this joyous wonderland you promise us? For surely new and improved morals must bring about joyous and wonderful people. Where is this land of new and improved wisdom, where joyous and wonderful people are all eager to marry, and do marry, and have plenty of happy children, and have only words of appreciation and gratitude for members of the other sex—men for women and women for men, rather than just for the one not-so-bruised apple out of a bucket of stinkers? Where is all this joy? When was the last time you yourself expressed gratitude for the other sex, and admiration for their virtues, rather than just for the one you culled from among the brown and soft and wormy?”

We can’t all fight in this way. But some people, in some situations, can and should. We must be ready with a response, and we should keep in mind the whole rhetorical and spiritual situation. For the person whom we show to be ignorant is not the only one in the picture. When in doubt, err on the side of gentleness, and never resort to cheap abuse. Keep the truth in mind, and then fight as well as you can.

Professor Anthony Esolen is a teaching fellow and writer in residence at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); and Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017).