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 (uscal.us). To order one of his books or to subscribe to his weekly newsletter go to josephmattera.org.



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).



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 350.org 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 Resilience.org, 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)

Bibliography

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.



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 www.denisonforum.org for more from the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture.



America’s True History of Religious Tolerance

Above Left : During the 1944 campaign for president, anti-Semites scrawled hate messages on a shop window in the Bronx, New York. (FPG / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)
Above Right: In 1844, an anti-Mormon mob murdered Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum while they were held in an Illinois jail cell. (Granger Collection, New York)
By Kenneth C. Davis | The idea that the United States has always been a bastion of religious freedom is reassuring—and utterly at odds with the historical record

Wading into the controversy surrounding an Islamic center planned for a site near New York City’s Ground Zero memorial this past August, President Obama declared: “This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are.” In doing so, he paid homage to a vision that politicians and preachers have extolled for more than two centuries—that America historically has been a place of religious tolerance. It was a sentiment George Washington voiced shortly after taking the oath of office just a few blocks from Ground Zero.

In the storybook version most of us learned in school, the Pilgrims came to America aboard the Mayflower in search of religious freedom in 1620. The Puritans soon followed, for the same reason. Ever since these religious dissidents arrived at their shining “city upon a hill,” as their governor John Winthrop called it, millions from around the world have done the same, coming to an America where they found a welcome melting pot in which everyone was free to practice his or her own faith.

The problem is that this tidy narrative is an American myth. The real story of religion in America’s past is an often awkward, frequently embarrassing and occasionally bloody tale that most civics books and high-school texts either paper over or shunt to the side. And much of the recent conversation about America’s ideal of religious freedom has paid lip service to this comforting tableau.
From the earliest arrival of Europeans on America’s shores, religion has often been a cudgel, used to discriminate, suppress and even kill the foreign, the “heretic” and the “unbeliever”—including the “heathen” natives already here. Moreover, while it is true that the vast majority of early-generation Americans were Christian, the pitched battles between various Protestant sects and, more explosively, between Protestants and Catholics, present an unavoidable contradiction to the widely held notion that America is a “Christian nation.”

First, a little overlooked history: the initial encounter between Europeans in the future United States came with the establishment of a Huguenot (French Protestant) colony in 1564 at Fort Caroline (near modern Jacksonville, Florida). More than half a century before the Mayflower set sail, French pilgrims had come to America in search of religious freedom.

The Spanish had other ideas. In 1565, they established a forward operating base at St. Augustine and proceeded to wipe out the Fort Caroline colony. The Spanish commander, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, wrote to the Spanish King Philip II that he had “hanged all those we had found in [Fort Caroline] because…they were scattering the odious Lutheran doctrine in these Provinces.” When hundreds of survivors of a shipwrecked French fleet washed up on the beaches of Florida, they were put to the sword, beside a river the Spanish called Matanzas (“slaughters”). In other words, the first encounter between European Christians in America ended in a blood bath.

The much-ballyhooed arrival of the Pilgrims and Puritans in New England in the early 1600s was indeed a response to persecution that these religious dissenters had experienced in England. But the Puritan fathers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony did not countenance tolerance of opposing religious views. Their “city upon a hill” was a theocracy that brooked no dissent, religious or political.

The most famous dissidents within the Puritan community, Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, were banished following disagreements over theology and policy. From Puritan Boston’s earliest days, Catholics (“Papists”) were anathema and were banned from the colonies, along with other non-Puritans. Four Quakers were hanged in Boston between 1659 and 1661 for persistently returning to the city to stand up for their beliefs.

Throughout the colonial era, Anglo-American antipathy toward Catholics—especially French and Spanish Catholics—was pronounced and often reflected in the sermons of such famous clerics as Cotton Mather and in statutes that discriminated against Catholics in matters of property and voting. Anti-Catholic feelings even contributed to the revolutionary mood in America after King George III extended an olive branch to French Catholics in Canada with the Quebec Act of 1774, which recognized their religion.

When George Washington dispatched Benedict Arnold on a mission to court French Canadians’ support for the American Revolution in 1775, he cautioned Arnold not to let their religion get in the way. “Prudence, policy and a true Christian Spirit,” Washington advised, “will lead us to look with compassion upon their errors, without insulting them.” (After Arnold betrayed the American cause, he publicly cited America’s alliance with Catholic France as one of his reasons for doing so.)

In newly independent America, there was a crazy quilt of state laws regarding religion. In Massachusetts, only Christians were allowed to hold public office, and Catholics were allowed to do so only after renouncing papal authority. In 1777, New York State’s constitution banned Catholics from public office (and would do so until 1806). In Maryland, Catholics had full civil rights, but Jews did not. Delaware required an oath affirming belief in the Trinity. Several states, including Massachusetts and South Carolina, had official, state-supported churches.

In 1779, as Virginia’s governor, Thomas Jefferson had drafted a bill that guaranteed legal equality for citizens of all religions—including those of no religion—in the state. It was around then that Jefferson famously wrote, “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” But Jefferson’s plan did not advance—until after Patrick (“Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”) Henry introduced a bill in 1784 calling for state support for “teachers of the Christian religion.”

Future President James Madison stepped into the breach. In a carefully argued essay titled “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” the soon-to-be father of the Constitution eloquently laid out reasons why the state had no business supporting Christian instruction. Signed by some 2,000 Virginians, Madison’s argument became a fundamental piece of American political philosophy, a ringing endorsement of the secular state that “should be as familiar to students of American history as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution,” as Susan Jacoby has written in Freethinkers, her excellent history of American secularism.

Among Madison’s 15 points was his declaration that “the Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every…man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an inalienable right.”

Madison also made a point that any believer of any religion should understand: that the government sanction of a religion was, in essence, a threat to religion. “Who does not see,” he wrote, “that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?” Madison was writing from his memory of Baptist ministers being arrested in his native Virginia.

As a Christian, Madison also noted that Christianity had spread in the face of persecution from worldly powers, not with their help. Christianity, he contended, “disavows a dependence on the powers of this world…for it is known that this Religion both existed and flourished, not only without the support of human laws, but in spite of every opposition from them.”

Recognizing the idea of America as a refuge for the protester or rebel, Madison also argued that Henry’s proposal was “a departure from that generous policy, which offering an Asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every Nation and Religion, promised a lustre to our country.”

After long debate, Patrick Henry’s bill was defeated, with the opposition outnumbering supporters 12 to 1. Instead, the Virginia legislature took up Jefferson’s plan for the separation of church and state. In 1786, the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, modified somewhat from Jefferson’s original draft, became law. The act is one of three accomplishments Jefferson included on his tombstone, along with writing the Declaration and founding the University of Virginia. (He omitted his presidency of the United States.) After the bill was passed, Jefferson proudly wrote that the law “meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew, the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”

Madison wanted Jefferson’s view to become the law of the land when he went to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. And as framed in Philadelphia that year, the U.S. Constitution clearly stated in Article VI that federal elective and appointed officials “shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution, but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

This passage—along with the facts that the Constitution does not mention God or a deity (except for a pro forma “year of our Lord” date) and that its very first amendment forbids Congress from making laws that would infringe of the free exercise of religion—attests to the founders’ resolve that America be a secular republic. The men who fought the Revolution may have thanked Providence and attended church regularly—or not. But they also fought a war against a country in which the head of state was the head of the church. Knowing well the history of religious warfare that led to America’s settlement, they clearly understood both the dangers of that system and of sectarian conflict.

It was the recognition of that divisive past by the founders—notably Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Madison—that secured America as a secular republic. As president, Washington wrote in 1790: “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunity of citizenship. …For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.”

He was addressing the members of America’s oldest synagogue, the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island (where his letter is read aloud every August). In closing, he wrote specifically to the Jews a phrase that applies to Muslims as well: “May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants, while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

As for Adams and Jefferson, they would disagree vehemently over policy, but on the question of religious freedom they were united. “In their seventies,” Jacoby writes, “with a friendship that had survived serious political conflicts, Adams and Jefferson could look back with satisfaction on what they both considered their greatest achievement—their role in establishing a secular government whose legislators would never be required, or permitted, to rule on the legality of theological views.”

Late in his life, James Madison wrote a letter summarizing his views: “And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”

While some of America’s early leaders were models of virtuous tolerance, American attitudes were slow to change. The anti-Catholicism of America’s Calvinist past found new voice in the 19th century. The belief widely held and preached by some of the most prominent ministers in America was that Catholics would, if permitted, turn America over to the pope. Anti-Catholic venom was part of the typical American school day, along with Bible readings. In Massachusetts, a convent—coincidentally near the site of the Bunker Hill Monument—was burned to the ground in 1834 by an anti-Catholic mob incited by reports that young women were being abused in the convent school. In Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, anti-Catholic sentiment, combined with the country’s anti-immigrant mood, fueled the Bible Riots of 1844, in which houses were torched, two Catholic churches were destroyed and at least 20 people were killed.

At about the same time, Joseph Smith founded a new American religion—and soon met with the wrath of the mainstream Protestant majority. In 1832, a mob tarred and feathered him, marking the beginning of a long battle between Christian America and Smith’s Mormonism. In October 1838, after a series of conflicts over land and religious tension, Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs ordered that all Mormons be expelled from his state. Three days later, rogue militiamen massacred 17 church members, including children, at the Mormon settlement of Haun’s Mill. In 1844, a mob murdered Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum while they were jailed in Carthage, Illinois. No one was ever convicted of the crime.

Even as late as 1960, Catholic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy felt compelled to make a major speech declaring that his loyalty was to America, not the pope. (And as recently as the 2008 Republican primary campaign, Mormon candidate Mitt Romney felt compelled to address the suspicions still directed toward the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.) Of course, America’s anti-Semitism was practiced institutionally as well as socially for decades. With the great threat of “godless” Communism looming in the 1950s, the country’s fear of atheism also reached new heights.

America can still be, as Madison perceived the nation in 1785, “an Asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every Nation and Religion.” But recognizing that deep religious discord has been part of America’s social DNA is a healthy and necessary step. When we acknowledge that dark past, perhaps the nation will return to that “promised…lustre” of which Madison so grandiloquently wrote.

Kenneth C. Davis is the author of Don’t Know Much About History and A Nation Rising, among other books.



How Does the “Selfie Culture” Affect Young Women Today?

by Rachel Marie Stone | It’s not healthy to dwell too much on how we look.

A selfie? Whether it’s spelled with an ‘ie’ or a ‘y’, Oxford defines it as;

“A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”

Branding yourself is not a new concept. However branding yourself with the image that you want the world – or your followers to see – is a new form of personal branding. And the way you see yourself in a selfie is tailored toward the way you expect others to see you and not the way your close family, friends and relations sees you.

 

 



Church, It’s Time to Rise Up Against the Spirit of Intimidation

by Michael Green | Free speech protesters in Portland, Oregon. (YouTube)

The spirit of intimidation is insidious, and it is on rampant display in every area of our lives. Mixed with the use of shame and a bullying spirit, the spirit of intimidation is actually a tool of terror.

Today, if you merely have a difference of opinion regarding a social issue, a political opinion, stores you patronize or your take on free speech, know this: If your opinion does not reflect the authorized convictions of today, you will be shouted down, put out of business or perhaps put in the hospital.

As one commentator said regarding the modus operandi of today, "Rage is all the rage!" Yep, and it is sanctioned, encouraged and even rewarded.

I just heard a pathetic rant from two crazed Congresspeople who were advocating mischief and insurrection in America just because their beliefs were different. It wasn't a simple disagreement; it was rage. It sounds different; and at times, devilishly so.

Case in point, it is this type of insane rage that has our friend and congressman [Rep. Steve Scalise] still struggling for his life. But it should not surprise you. It is the byproduct of prolonged, intentional, incendiary language, topped with a winking, "If you don't like it, blow it up" mindset.

Yesterday, as I drove past the office of one our national elected officials, I saw a sight I've seen many times in the last six months. First, let me say, I'm a big free-speech fan, and I am ever reminded and respectful of the price paid for its precious exercise. But what I saw was not respectful, and it was more than just a petulant juvenile, chest-beating, bravado display. No, it was a frenzied implementation of unhinged myopic rage.

The screams, the silly signs and the distorted faces drowned out any good opinion they may have had. And since they had flushed all of their manners and credibility, they decided to make trouble. That's not free speech. That's nuts.

In one of the greatest ironies of today, the University of California in Berkeley, the heart of the campus Free Speech Movement, now wants to control any speech that might be "uncomfortable" (meaning Christian, Jewish or pro-American speeches deemed offensive to the "sensitive" ones). But it is still OK to break windows, taunt police, tear up buildings and set cars on fire.

Yes, I realize kooks should be able to have a voice, too. But the spirit of this, along with the anarchy mindset of today, is now deeper and way darker. This is the spirit that is loose today. It is a spirit of assassination, not assimilation.

Assassination is not just bullets that kill, but also words, ideology and intimidation to paralyze, tear down and destroy. Our universities and our airwaves are riddled with such.

This spirit of intimidation is as old as man himself. In fact, it was the tool of choice as the serpent slithered around the tree toward Adam and Eve. His directed words to question, demean, obstruct and intimidate them put the first man and woman back on their heels and then into despair. And still today, none of us are immune to such concentrated meanness.

In all walks of life, the spirit of intimation still rolls along, sadly, even in churches.

Just a few days ago, I ran into two good folks whom I had not seen in a few Sundays. I hugged them and told them I missed their smiling faces. Then, these sweet ones, in an embarrassed delicate manner, communicated their frustration in dealing with (in my words) intimidation. Not knowing how to stand up or ignore it, the bullying spirit from an outsider proved too overwhelming and had taken them out of the Lord's house. I didn't scold or demean them; I just spoke peace, blessing and encouragement to them and then opened the door wider! 

Dear ones, in this era of intimidation and in this age of rage, don't be intimidated and don't be afraid. Stay strong, faith-filled and in the Word. Don't let anything intimidate you. That's devilish, and God's not in that!

Michael Green is pastor with his wife, Linda, at The LifeGate in Metairie and Mandeville, Louisiana. Along with being a dad, he is a speaker, singer, producer and writer, Find him on Twitter and his church on Facebook.

 



Does This Pagan Holiday Reveal Our Culture’s Addiction to the Occult?

by Ron Allen | These amazing connections between Babylon, Egypt, the Druids, and the American Indians are merely one of many examples worldwide of common cultural practices (image, techuloid.com)

Next week, on May 1, we mark a pagan holiday which has been celebrated from the most ancient of times until the present.

The European druids celebrated May 1 as "Beltane", a holiday named after their god "Bel" and the word for fire, "Tane." On Beltane, all fires were extinguished except for the sacred fires of the druids, which were then used to start new fires. The ritual actually traces back to Babylon, as does the name of the pagan god "Bel."

Another ritual of Beltane was celebrated by gathering around the "May Pole." The pole actually represented the Cosmic Axis, or North Pole, and this type of celebration has been found as far away as the North American Indians. The pole is also a phallic symbol, similar to the Egyptian obelisk, echoing the pagan claim that their god is the "seed of woman" (See Gen 3:15), a title that belongs only to Jesus Christ.

Another feature of the May 1 celebration is its position 52 days, or one seventh of a year, from the summer solstice, an important pagan worship date and the focal point of the ancient Stonehenge monument. The day 52 days after the summer solstice, August 15, is also a druid holiday known as Lughnasa. Interestingly, these dates are also celebrated by the Mayans and form the structure of their 260-day, or five-sevenths of a year, calendar. The Egyptians also built a 52-day period into the Great Pyramid, although their periods are tied to the winter, not summer, solstice.
 
These amazing connections between Babylon, Egypt, the Druids, and the American Indians are merely one of many examples worldwide of common cultural practices. For those who understand that the Bible presents an accurate history of humanity, it is a simple matter to trace those beliefs back to the time when all humanity was gathered into one place: Babylon. It was the event we call the Tower of Babel, actually a civil war, which scattered the people and their practices across the earth. And it was God who sent Jesus to save humanity from the false religion born in Babylon.

Next week we can celebrate a Christian May Day where we recognize the goodness and mercy of God as He has poured out his grace on our societies. The National Day of Prayer, May 4, gives us the opportunity to thank God for His mercies and humble ourselves to pray for our nation.

The lesson of May Day is the provable reality of God's word. Let us learn our lesson and pray that our nation will not go the way of the Babylonians, Egyptians, druids and Mayans who turned away from God on May Day.

Ron Allen is a Christian businessman, CPA and author who serves in local, national and international ministries spreading a message of reconciliation to God, to men and between believers. He is founder of the International Star Bible Society, telling how the heavens declare the glory of God and the Emancipation Network, which helps people escape from financial bondage, and co-founder with his wife, Pat, of Corporate Prayer Resources, dedicated to helping intercessors.

 



Which Side of Acts 1 Are You On?

Which side of Acts 1 are you living on when you wake up each morning? (Photo| ECWA Archieve)

Are you living on the right side of Acts 1? The answer will determine the course of your life.

Every morning when we awaken from a long night of sleep, we stretch, yawn and eventually step into a new day. In the natural we are functioning from a collection of experiences, training, opportunities, challenges and other influences that have helped determine our current experience. Some are waking up in the morning to get ready to operate on somebody’s heart because his natural training provided him that opportunity. Others are headed to classes in a university as a result of healthy planning. Still others are depressed, lonely, fearful, expectant, determined or are experiencing a myriad of other very real feelings due to their position in life. Their natural position.

Spiritually, where are you? Specifically, which side of Acts chapter one are you living on when you wake up each morning?

Acts Chapter 1

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:6-11 (ESV)

Of course, the first chapter of Act’s position on the historical timeline comes after the death and victorious resurrection of Jesus. The question I’m asking is directed toward those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb—Christians—those who have responded to the greatest gift man has ever been offered. Christian friend, it’s possible to be functioning on the right side of the cross and on the wrong side of the rest of the story.

Read the short passage in Acts 1:6-11 again. Let the power of that dramatic moment impact you. Put yourself in the position of the disciples of Jesus.

They had just experienced, to put it lightly, a dramatic season of life that culminated with their hero, their friend, God himself being brutally, savagely tortured and mutilated. They were suddenly alone, fearful and confused. Their holy hope was gone forever—so it seemed. Dead people don’t just wake up and walk out of their tombs after all, right?

Lazarus might disagree with that. So would Jesus. The disciple’s overwhelming hopelessness was miraculously displaced by the impossible. Jesus walked out his tomb.

They were fearful, alone and confused no more. Now the celebration begins! Now plans for the future can be discussed! This was the day the Lord Jesus himself created and it was time to rejoice and be glad!

The obvious next step was for Jesus to set up his Kingdom and to reign! The disciple’s question was an honest yet misguided one:

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Acts 1:6 (ESV)

They didn’t understand at all what the future held. The victory on the cross, in their minds, would result in Jesus doing much more of what they saw him do previously. Jesus was the man of the hour and they wanted to be in the front row for the show.

After all, Jesus had just spent 40 days talking to them about the Kingdom, right?

3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. Acts 1:3 (ESV)

Yes, the Kingdom was coming, but not at all the way everyone had presumed. Jesus was about to launch them out of Acts chapter one and into Acts chapter two.

If you’ll remember, Jesus had already given them a mandate that it seems they casually overlooked:

4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Acts 1:4-5 (ESV)

The disciples had necessary teaching about the Kingdom and a mandate to wait for a promise that would enable them to initiate a world shaking mission.

However, in their minds they wondered why they would need a Promise if Jesus was there with them. Why would they need anything else? Jesus was going to work wonders and they would be there as his most fervent supporters!

Jesus Left—AGAIN

9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. Acts 1:9 (ESV)

Again, put yourself in the shoes of the disciples. What type of emotional crisis were they going through? First Jesus died, then he defied all odds and returned in victory. Now their plans for Jesus to build his Kingdom were cut down as they received an inconvenient mandate to pray and wait for some nondescript Promise—as Jesus again left them.

Now, their close friend, their superhero who would protect them from the threats of the many enemies in the land, was gone from them a second time—this time for good (at least in their lifetimes).

The Bible says that they were just standing there gazing into heaven.

My question to you is this: Are you gazing into heaven waiting for Jesus to show up and do what you are yearning for him to do? Or, are you taking action in the power of the Holy Spirit to do it yourself?

On the cross Jesus famously said, “It is finished!” His part is done. We have been left with an extreme mandate and a costly mission that must be in front of us every morning when we awaken, stretch and yawn and move into our day.

So often we are crying out for Jesus to heal the sick when he commanded us to heal the sick. Those on the wrong side of Acts chapter one will gaze into heaven waiting for Jesus to do it. Those who have been baptized with power and who have embraced their spiritual mission will function in the power of the resurrection by looking at someone and commanding that they take up their mat and walk!

True baptism in power results in an inconvenient life.

I’m convinced that casual ‘gazing into heaven’ type prayer is often unanswered because Jesus is putting the pressure on us to get into the prayer rooms where supernatural baptism can be found.

The angelic question in Acts 2 remains for us today:

11 …“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?” Acts 1:11a (ESV)

Those who are living on the wrong side of Acts chapter one have bought into the resurrection power of the cross but have yet to step into their life mission that requires a devotion that will put every other life focus at risk. They want to continue in their day-to-day life hoping that Jesus will be the hero and rescuer they might need in times of trouble. The call to greater consecration is unnecessary since they are already saved and the victory of the cross was complete.

The truth is that the victory of the cross launches our mission. It doesn’t end it. When Jesus said “it is finished,” for us it meant, “it has begun.”

The enemy is moving across the earth stealing, killing and destroying. How could we even begin to think our work is done or unnecessary?

The blood of Jesus doesn’t grant us immunity, it grants us authority—authority to tread on serpents, authority to heal the sick, authority to advance the Kingdom, authority to go and make disciples.

Those living on the right side of the chapter are burning with that mission every single day. They wake up on fire with an urgency to fulfill their extremely important commission.

The life of someone living in Acts chapter two and beyond looks radically different than the lives of other Christians.

PRAYER

The call to prayer was too inconvenient for most everybody who saw Jesus alive after the resurrection. Only 120 showed up in that room. Only 120 determined it was necessary to actually obey Jesus. To them Jesus was more Savior than Lord.

Living on the right side of Acts one requires obedience. It requires us to be people of extravagant, inconvenient prayer.

Acts two started with prayer in an Upper Room and it continued with prayer daily in the temple.

17 pray without ceasing, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (ESV)

Today we have innumerable people who are naming the name of Christ who are living in constant disobedience by refusing to live a life of continual prayer.

Corporate prayer is such a clear and obvious mandate for Christians that it is beyond shocking and nonsensical that so many are not investing in it. They are living after the resurrection but before Acts, presuming that all is well and there is nothing left to be done. Both Resurrection power and Holy Spirit power are required before we can even begin to understand our life purpose—much less fulfill it.

The corporate prayer meetings are the most important meeting and every Christian must be in attendance. In fact, In Acts 2 corporate prayer was a daily occurrence. This is what must return to our churches today.

46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day… Acts 2:46 (NLT)

This means we can no longer continue without coming together for Holy Spirit infused prayer every day and presume it’s okay or normal. It’s not. Those living on the right side of Acts one can’t stand the thought of going a day without encountering God in prayer with other Believers.

CHURCH

Acts Christians were radically invested in both corporate church gatherings and planting of new churches.

I’m grieved at the number of Christian “church haters” (is that even possible?) that are on the rise. People are creating theologies that argue against the corporate church setting that are laughable.

Consider Chinese Christians who gather together every morning at 4:30am, seven days a week, to pray and worship together as the church before they begin their day. In America we think a couple hours a week is too inconvenient!

Can somebody explain to me how coming together with other Christians every day to pray on fire is a bad thing? How is that something that doctrines are being created to oppose? Truly those are doctrines of demons.

Some might say that they don’t need to attend church because “they are the church.” They would be incorrect.

From my article, You are not the church:

If we understand the meaning of the word ‘church’ we could never presume that we alone are the church. That idea is contrary to the origin of the word (ekklesia, meaning “assembly”). In fact, that word has secular origins. It literally means an assembly of people who have been called together by an authority in the city or region. Wow! That sheds a lot of light on what the church is.

The church is an assembly of people organized under defined governmental leadership. It’s a regular gathering of people who are deeply agreed and in pursuit of mission advance under God’s apostles, prophets and other governmental leaders.

Further, the pure definition of the word reveals that it isn’t used as easily in the context of the global company of believers as it is in the regional and local gathering of believers.

The definition reveals that it’s a well defined local group vs. a loosely defined larger group of people (who mostly don’t know each other at all). We can’t be a part of the church if we aren’t gathered together with other parts of the church. Church is corporate.

Additionally, the church is a group of people who assemble, fellowship, pray and respond together to apostolic teaching. That can’t happen in a more nebulous global context.

The church has inherent in it’s core call the expectation of assembly and a corporate response so as to ensure the local mission is fulfilled. Again, a fulfilled mission can’t be realized without this type of intentional and faithful participation at a local level where communication and commonality are clearly defined.

Those living in Acts Holy Spirit power understand the need to be rightly aligned with men and women of God. They understand the church gathering isn’t foundationally a social one. It’s a strategic one. Great numbers of people coming together to pray and to receive apostolic instruction is necessary on a daily basis if we are to advance the gospel in victorious fashion.

The church is a military. It has a mission.

Church haters have gripes about how they were treated, about disagreements with focus, about not being recognized, about most anything. True biblical Holy Spirit empowered Christians are ready to die to their own opinions and serve. Today when people are rejected they run from the church with complaints in their hearts. Two thousand years ago when Jesus was rejected he died for the church with love in his heart.

CULTURE

Acts Christians are not flowing under the radar, blending in with their culture. They are causing controversies and inciting riots!

40 For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” Acts 19:40 (ESV)

It angers me that so many supposed Christians refuse to declare the offensive Gospel message out of fear that they may lose friends, offend family or put their financial security at risk!

Did you know that’s why there was a riot in Ephesus? People’s financial well being was compromised when Paul and his team of firebrands arrived on the scene!

23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. 25 He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: “Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.” 28 When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and rushed as one man into the theater. Acts 19:23-29 (NIV)

I absolutely love Acts 19 verse 23:

23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. Acts 19:23 (NIV)

Where is such a disturbance today?

“God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” is not the gospel message! It’s a true message, but it’s not the gospel message. When we start preaching about man’s depravity, our darkness, and God’s holiness and Lordship and his extreme sacrifice on the cross we will begin preaching the gospel. Anything that does not upset culture as it sets people free is suspect as a true message.

MISSION

People on the right side of Acts chapter one will burn with a mission. Others will live normal, low impact lives. Sure, they may enjoy God, say their prayers, go to church, worship him, read their bibles and be people of great conviction. However, the very reason they were born eludes them. The tears over the lost and the zeal for intercession are absent. An aggressive, unwavering daily pursuit of humanly impossible God given projects and assignments is nowhere to be found.

The primary purpose of the Promise in the Upper Room was not to make us feel better as we worship or to help us in our daily lives. The primary purpose of the Holy Spirit is to empower us to live free from sin (He’s the HOLY Spirit) and to preach the message of the cross to the world; to expand the Kingdom. How different this is than what the disciples presumed in Acts one!

The Holy Spirit enables us to work and to advance in mission in ways that are not possible via human determination. Jesus is physically gone and we are the ones to do the work!

12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. John 14:12 (NIV)

When on the earth, Jesus was about his Father’s business. Now that he is gone we are to be about our Father’s business!

49 And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” 50 But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. Luke 2:49-50 (NKJV)

I propose there are many post-resurrection/pre-Upper Room Christians today who also don’t understand what it is to be about our Father’s business.

Acts chapter one where we see disciples of Jesus transition into apostles. In a moment, they went from followers to ‘sent ones’ with a mission.

I want to encourage you, when you wake up each morning, stretch and yawn and get ready for the day that you function as a sent one. Burn with a passion for Jesus and the advance of his Kingdom. Embrace the impossible assignments that God has for you. Pray continually with others. Live and walk in the Spirit. Disrupt the culture you live in. Trouble the lukewarm and awaken the sleepers. Live in great power—power that’s found on the other side of Acts chapter one.

John Burton has been developing and leading ministries for over 20 years and is a sought out teacher, prophetic messenger and revivalist. John has authored nine books, has appeared on Christian television and radio and directed one of the primary internships at the International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Kansas City. Additionally, he planted two churches, has initiated two city prayer movements and is currently directing a prayer- and revival-focused ministry school in Detroit called theLab University. John's mandate is to call the church in the nations to repentance from casual Christianity and to burn in a manner worthy of the King of kings. He is equipping people to confront the enemies of God (established religion, Jezebel and so on) that hinder an extreme, sold-out level of true worship.

For the original article, visit johnburton.net.