Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Updates to Roman Catholic Doctrine

October 21, 2020

News outlets made some brief mention of a new papal encyclical released earlier this month, but largely it was ignored. Curious, seeing Pope Francis takes this opportunity to potentially end the Roman Catholic Church’s tolerance of both capital punishment and war. A good article summarizing this can be found here.

Based on Scripture, the Roman Catholic Church has long recognized the legitimacy of both capital punishment and “just” war, even as it often encouraged world powers and leaders to carefully consider the application of both these tragic tactics. But now, Pope Francis may just have effectively overturned 2000 years of Roman Catholic understanding in a single letter. It all hinges, I suppose, on how authoritative a papal encyclical is. As near as I can tell, the answer is it depends.

Within the Church, encyclicals were historically letters from a bishop (not just the Pope) to other church leaders, either in a limited or specific area or on a larger, church-wide scale. But there is obviously some confusion or at least a lack of consistency in defining what an encyclical means today, as my Roman Catholic go-to site demonstrates. An encyclical has a particular style and form to it, particularly in both how it begins and ends. But not all encyclicals follow this form.

Popes have various distinct ways of communicating their thoughts on subjects of interest. Papal bulls and briefs are two common options, though Popes also speak through speeches as well as more specific writings. This all is interesting enough, but then we have Pope Pius XII’s statement in his encyclical Humani Generis in 1950 (section 3) basically saying once a Pope has communicated his thoughts on a controversy, the controversy is essentially ended. In other words, when a Pope speaks in an encyclical, his statements can be binding on the Church.

I’ll be reading and commenting on Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti encyclical shortly. For now, I’m just amazed at how many different forms of communication a Pope might employ, and how those various forms are known more by their physical characteristics as opposed to their level of officialness. To my mind, it would seem to make sense that if a Pope wished to issue a binding decision for the entire Church for all time on a subject, it would take one form. An opinion that was considered guiding but not necessarily mandatory would take another, etc. Maybe that’s actually the case and my Protestant ignorance and Internet research simply hasn’t made that clear to me yet, in which case I’d VERY much appreciate some pointers from some of my Roman Catholic readers on how to better understand this issue!

In the meantime, it’s fascinating to think that war and capital punishment might just have been officially condemned by the Church, despite the fact God commands in Scripture the exact opposite in various places, notably Genesis 9:6 on the issue of capital punishment along with Exodus 31:15. I can see how an argument might be made that war is one of the things Scripture describes but does not prescribe, and sections (like most of the book of Joshua) describing war commanded by God are exceptions and special circumstances rather than an acknowledgement that war is something we are free to instigate on our own as a last resort. Saints Augustine and Aquinas – some pretty heavy hitters in Roman Catholic theological tradition – both specifically write to the contrary on the topic of war, but I suppose since they weren’t Popes, their opinions or interpretations can be superceded.

Painfully Helpful?

October 5, 2020

For those who have a hard time thinking the Genesis account of creation and humanity being descended from one single set of parents could be true, I think this is an interesting and relevant article. Being neither a geneticist or a genealogist, it’s possible I’m not understanding it correctly. But the main gist is we’re more closely interconnected than we (and evolutionary theory) tend to think we are.

Though scientists are quick to discount that a single couple – married to each other, actually – could be the source of all our genetic linkages, if I’m understanding this correctly there’s not a scientific reason we couldn’t be, other than that it would too closely sound like Genesis and we can’t have that.

Curious and open to better explanations or applications of this article if you’ve got them!

Finding Us

October 4, 2020

The readings for this Sunday are challenging ones to hear. Isaiah 5:1-7. Matthew 21:33-46. Talk of vineyards to be sure, but more pertinently talk of failure and disappointment. Failure and disappointment on God’s part with the chosen people He called for himself. As good Christians (or perhaps just as Lutherans), our response is to read His Word and find ourselves in the stories. To apply what should be applied to our lives. To repent, watch, and be ready.

There’s a tendency to see these two stories, separated by some 700 years, as essentially the same, allowing the Old Testament reading to dictate our hearing of Jesus’ parable. Isaiah conveys God’s displeasure with his people who, instead of being a holy and obedient people are as savage and wild as those God hasn’t called into covenantal relationship with himself. He could have just skipped the whole process of tending to them and protecting them – the end result was no different. Not that God didn’t know this, of course, but rather that his people should be ashamed to presume upon the grace and protection of God as some sort of birthright when they clearly had no interest in being the sort of people He called them to be.

We can tell Jesus’ story is somewhat different. The problem isn’t the harvest – there’s definitely a harvest! – but rather the tenants, an element completely absent from the Isaiah text. So we understand Jesus not to be angry with God’s people in general or total, but more specifically with the leadership of God’s people, the chief priests and elders who should have been stewarding God’s people in preparation to receive the Messiah. Instead, they are rejecting the Messiah and in effect trying to keep the people for themselves. They wouldn’t see it this way, of course, but that doesn’t change the reality of the situation, a situation Jesus speaks to bluntly in this story. It’s clear his hearers know who He has in his crosshairs, yet their response is not repentance but a continued insistence that this man must be done away with.

So we try to fit ourselves into this. It’s easier with the Isaiah text, because who among us would deny our fruit is somewhat sour, to say the least? Who among us can pretend our fruit is perfect and sweet and exactly what God should expect from us? We stand condemned in our sin.

And we know that this isn’t the point of Jesus’ story, we understand He’s targeting the leaders of God’s people, and so we presume we must hear it as a warning to the leaders of God’s people, the ordained or commissioned or Called workers as well as to the lay employees and volunteers. Anyone with authority over God’s people in any fashion. We aren’t sure what the warning is about, but we presume Jesus intends us to hear it as a warning and be on our guard against something.

But we have a hard time defining what that is. The Messiah has come. The Son of the Master of the House has arrived and we acclaim and proclaim him. We seek to follow him, imperfectly of course but yet faithfully. Our leaders should be careful of obstructing God’s people from God’s son, perhaps with sermons that focus not on the Son but rather on social justice or other issues we presume are highest on God’s list of priorities. But this is still a stretch, still awkward.

Is there another way to hear Jesus’ story of tenants and a land owner?

Perhaps if we allow Jesus to guide us, through his quoting of Psalm 118. Go ahead and follow the link to read the psalm BUT, as you do so, read it as though Jesus is speaking the words of the psalm. Not just the one verse He quotes directly, but the entire psalm. Read it as though Jesus is speaking Psalm 118 for the first time ever, composing it on the spot, as it were. And bear in mind the context. This is Holy Week. The Holy Week. The first Holy Week. Jesus rode into town on Palm Sunday a day or maybe two ago. He’s cleared the Temple courtyards of moneychangers and animal sellers. Now He’s being pressed to defend his actions. His adversaries are gnashing their teeth, chomping at the bit to get at him and get him out of the way. Tension mounts. In just a few days Jesus will be arrested, tried, convicted, executed, buried. And just three days after that, He will be alive again.

Read Psalm 118 in that context.

Pretty wild, eh? Eerie how well the entire psalm fits not only Jesus but Jesus at this particular moment in time, on the cusp of fulfilling the fullness of his Incarnate purpose.

And it transforms this from a text applying to you and me and church leadership throughout all time, into a declaration of victory against the group of men standing in front of him. Close enough for him to smell the sweat on their brows as they grit their teeth in the sunlight, aching to get rid of him and unable to do anything but pretend they’re listening just like everyone else. But they aren’t. This group of men with murder in their hearts, who refused to acknowledge John the Baptist and now refuse to acknowledge Jesus. This group of men in their fine robes and tefillin. With their tallits practically on permanent display, so convinced they’re right, so convinced they are doing the will of God in plotting murder.

We lose many interpretative options when we presume every single thing Jesus says is only for edification, only for justification and sanctification. Perhaps some of the things He says only He can say – perfectly, sinlessly, poignantly, stingingly. Perhaps sometimes all we can do is listen and give thanks to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world through his insistence on obedience to the will of God rather than his own. Through suffering and death and blood and burial, to resurrection and ascension and victory and honor.

Mobs and Justice

September 25, 2020

Once again there are mobs floating around major cities in our country demanding justice after the decision of a grand jury not to indict any of the police officers involved in the tragic shooting death of Breonna Taylor. The range of these protests is typically broad, from peaceful protests to more violent protests. The Los Angeles Times reported about two cars that “plowed” through protestors, implying guilt on the part of the drivers, though when you actually read the article it’s far from clear that’s necessarily the best characterization of what happened.

First off, a reminder that protests which block traffic are illegal, though some states allow protestors to block streets if they obtain a permit in advance. But a mob of people arbitrarily deciding to block traffic is in itself an illegal act – pretty much all the time as far as my limited Internet research shows. I’m happy to be proved wrong with appropriate links in the comments section. This document from the ACLU indicates as much. Blocking traffic is in itself illegal, an irony somehow lost in the shuffle of cries for justice, which clearly then are cries for justice in certain situations rather than others, problematic in the least. And needless to say, attacking vehicles and their drivers is very, very illegal, very much against the idea of justice the protestors claim to be demanding. At least one of the vehicles in the LA Times article received extensive damage from protestors who were angered it didn’t want to stop. The car that struck one of the protestors is also said to have damage on it, damage the driver claims was inflicted on the vehicle first and which caused the driver to try and escape the crowd.

Complicated stuff at best, though the headlines certainly wouldn’t lead the casual reader to that conclusion. I don’t think they intend to, frankly.

The cry for justice in this situation is also problematic. The death of anyone is a tragedy, and certainly the death of someone in their own home at the hands of public agents of any kind is additionally odious and should call for investigation. However, investigation actually did happen. The cries and protests for justice come after a grand jury determined no criminal charges were appropriate against the officers involved for Taylor’s death. The officers weren’t cleared of wrong doing by an internal investigation but by a grand jury. A grand jury is a means for determining possible offenses in a situation and lodging official charges to be pursued in a court of law. A grand jury is made up of private citizens, similar to the jury in a court case. They are assembled and tasked with determining to the best of their ability whether a crime has or hasn’t been committed.

So the crowds blocking roads and attacking motorists in a demand for justice are ignoring the fact that justice has already been applied. Typically 16-23 people are assembled for a grand jury and a majority of them must agree a crime was committed and indicate which law was broken. So the majority of the people on the grand jury for this case determined the police officers did not violate a law.

That doesn’t mean Taylor’s death isn’t tragic. It doesn’t mean that perhaps the existing laws might need to change, and already there is discussion towards that end regarding the serving of no-knock warrants, where police can enter a home without prior notification or warning. Of course there are also reasons why such warrants exist, such as protecting officers from a coordinated, deadly response to their ringing of the doorbell or knocking on the door. In this particular case the man they were looking for – an ex-boyfriend’s of Taylor – was not there. Yet her current boyfriend was there, and he was armed, and he opened fire on officers first.

I don’t hear the protestors talking much about that. Clearly, this is a more complicated situation than some people would like it to be. Some details don’t contribute to a story of an innocent young woman shot to death in her own home by reckless and uncaring agents of the State. Apparently the majority of the grand jury realized this as they explored the facts of the case.

So what is justice then? If the due process of the law is inadequate, what do the protestors suggest as an alternative? Is it a matter of mob justice, so to speak, where if enough people scream and yell and threaten and destroy property, they determine the appropriate verdict in a trial? Is this justice? Do what we demand or we destroy things?

Grand juries have been around for over 800 years and are part of a cherished and celebrated legal process and set of protections against mob justice or the arbitrary whims of power. They’re intended to provide as much assurance as possible that a crime really has – or hasn’t – been committed, regardless of which persons or powers demand an outcome to suit their own preferences or interests. Against this what do the protestors suggest as an alternative?

Deadly force is deadly serious, without a doubt. That’s something police officers are trained to recognize and to which they are at least theoretically held accountable. They are also responsible for performing dangerous work like serving warrants on premises or for people that are known to be dangerous and capable of killing them. That’s a lot of pressure to be under, even for professionals, and something the law seeks to take into account. I also assume the man who fired on those police officers when they entered the home understands that deadly force is deadly serious, and if you’re going to pull a gun and start shooting immediately rather than waiting to assess the situation a bit better, I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’re probably more comfortable with deadly force than the average person. Cries for justice ought to reasonably include why this man opened fire immediately.

Bad things happen. Sometimes bad things happen because of bad people, and in those situations the bad people should be held accountable. But not all bad things are matters of injustice or a matter of bad people. This is something that should be – and is – evident regardless of your ethnicity. Yet even ethnic minorities are denounced and vilified if they question or disagree with the mob justice mindset that insists on a particular verdict. Do the mobs have all the details and information the grand jury did? Is their shouting and blocking traffic a superior insight into the happenings of that fateful day? Does their anger somehow trump whatever facts are available?

Should it? Is that how we want verdicts reached – by whoever screams the loudest or makes the most intimidating threats?

Are the protestors demanding an end to grand juries? Are they demanding that police be disbanded? Are they demanding an end to no-knock warrants? Are they demanding a particular charge and conviction of murder in this particular case? Are they demanding other things not specific to this case but part of a larger agenda of change? And how will they respond if a larger or more vocal or more violent group of protestors shows up and demands just the opposite? Who decides who is right? Is it just a matter of starting to shoot and stab each other and see who is left at the end of the exchange? Or do we rather place our faith in a good albeit imperfect system of law, knowing that sometimes injustices will go unpunished, but that far more often than not justice will be done, and can be relied on to be done without protests and threats and violence?

If the laws need to be changed then work for change. But that change involves not simply making demands under threat of violence but wrestling with the difficult realities of a sinful and broken world where many bad people exist, and where most of them probably don’t wear a badge. If you want to agitate for change then know what it is you’re agitating for as well as what you’re agitating against. Because tragedy happens every single day. This doesn’t make it less tragic. But compounding tragedy with riots and threats of violence does make it more tragic, especially if you don’t really understand what it is you’re asking for or protesting against.

Reporting Jesus

September 22, 2020

I don’t for a second believe this guy is legitimate in the least. That’s not the point of this post.

But in reading this news report I realized this is probably how Jesus’ death was reported by the Powers That Be. We have the underground report, the eye-witness up-close reports in the Gospels – four separate, individual reports by or of people intimately familiar with Jesus – Matthew and John, both in Jesus’ inner circle of twelve disciples, Mark’s account which is basically a retelling of Peter’s preaching and teaching about Jesus, and Peter was another of the twelve disciples, and finally Luke’s account which is a compilation of testimonies. Although modern, more liberal scholarship will try to argue that Matthew and Luke are basically just copies of Mark, careful reading argues against this assertion.

In any event, the Gospels portray Jesus by those who knew him best. But how would Jewish or even Roman reports have read, were newspaper articles a thing? The article above probably gives us a good taste.

It would describe Jesus as a cult leader, which immediately categorizes ahead of time how the reader/hearer thinks about the person. Cults are bad and dangerous, right? Fanatical at the least, abusive and evil at worst. Jesus was likely described as a cult leader claiming to be the Son of God. Cults are small and separated from the mainstream and therefore inherently suspicious.

Jesus would have faced charges for an illegal religion, perhaps, but certainly for blasphemy, and perhaps for allegations of abusive behavior. Jesus didn’t often mince words with his opponents, which I’m sure some might categorize as abusive. Certainly his stern rebuke of Peter in Matthew 16:23 could be interpreted as abusive. Without knowing context, or by misinterpreting context (either intentionally or accidentally) any number of situations could be classified under dire-sounding language. I’m sure the article might characterize Jesus as a former carpenter. Such wording lead the reader/hearer to question why the accused wasn’t still doing their former work, what prompted their shift to religious leader or spiritual teacher, and calls into question their credentials for doing so.

Like the article above, Jesus was apprehended by a special operations unit likely consisting of Roman soldiers as well as Temple police, guided by an informant. The desire to apprehend an influential figure away from his followers who might endanger themselves to protect him is nothing new.

A historical news report might cite how Jesus embarked in a radically new direction after a spiritual awakening in the Jordan River under the influence of another charlatan, John the Baptist. The sudden change in lifestyle would certainly demonstrate some level of psychological instability, or at least cause the reader/hearer to infer it.

The need to try and evaluate what is reported and how it is reported is important, as the ability to smear someone in the press is nothing new and perhaps easier than ever with ubiquitous, instant news feeds and the ability to create or locate condemning evidence of a digital nature. The particular charges will vary by circumstance and reflect those charges considered most odious in a particular context. Christians were accused early on of both being atheists as well as cannibals. Jesus was charged with blasphemy. Jewish people through the centuries have been accused of murdering Christian babies. Charges hardly need to be religious in nature. Consider the sudden disappearance and then reported arrest and conviction of a leading Chinese dissent figure, convicted of corruption, something odious in a Communist country.

It’s said that history is written by the victors and there’s truth in this. Likewise, news is written by people who control the channels of information. In both cases, truth is sometimes difficult to discern or separate from opinion!

Cold Comfort

September 21, 2020

What a relief.

If a COVID vaccine in the United States turns out to be dangerous or unsafe, we know who we can blame. Dr. Anthony Fauci has assured MSNBC and the American public that if anything goes wrong with the vaccine process, he’ll take “the heat” for it and make sure we’re kept informed.

I’m sure he will. Whether he should or not is more complicated. But not as complicated as exactly what his taking “the heat” will actually accomplish. I assume at some level it means he’s willing to fall on his sword and resign in disgrace from his position if a vaccine is approved that turns out to be dangerous. Of course, with no long-term clinical studies ahead of time, it may well not be possible to know of potential problems with the vaccine until long after Dr. Fauci has either retired peaceably or even died.

If he has to retire because of the fallout of a bad vaccine roll-out, I have no doubt there are plenty of sympathetic individuals and companies who would be happy to ensure he doesn’t end up homeless in exchange for the relative luster of even a disgraced former immunology expert on their board.

Fauci might take some level of public blame, but that hardly means much. Especially since he’s not a political figure or a political appointee in any substantive manner. Not much comfort – not if you or your child or loved one is affected for life by unanticipated side effects of a vaccine. At the very worst, Fauci can rely on the passage of time and the dustbin of history to remove his name from common parlance and disparagement. But I guess that’s what those who might suffer side effects can count on as well. Nothing lasts forever, certainly not even life itself.

I’m not faulting Dr. Fauci or even MSNBC. This is political talk and it’s expected and perhaps has some place. But let’s be clear about the limitations of such talk. Having a scapegoat hopefully won’t be necessary. But if it is, nobody’s going to be very comforted by knowing who to point the finger at, no matter how willing that person is to be pointed at.

Replacements and Rhetoric

September 20, 2020

With the death of long-time Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the battle over her replacement begins. At least the public battle. Have no fear, folks on both sides of the political aisle have long been considering how this would go down, and her unfortunate failing health in the last year only accelerated those back room discussions. But now that she’s gone, you and I begin to be privy to the battle over her replacement.

The battle is accentuated because Ginsburg was noted for her steadfast ideological concerns over issues of reproductive health and gender. It’s unfortunate that the career of anyone should be boiled down to issues that probably occupied a relatively small percentage of her 27-year tenure, but there it is. Those who share her ideological views are adamant that her successor must embody those same ideological views and carry on her legacy. Those who disagree with her ideology see an opportunity to create long-lasting change in the Supreme Court.

Obviously, this disagreement is going to cause problems. And the problems have already begun. Prominent liberals are already threating violence if RBG’s seat is filled by the Republican controlled Senate and Oval Office prior to the election (and before the possibility of a shift in control to the Democrats of one or both branches of government).

Speaking of government and branches. Y’all remember your basic civics lessons, right? The division of our government into three different branches – Executive, Legislative and Judicial? Checks and balances, to ensure that no one person or group gains to great control over things? And as part of this checks and balances system, Supreme Court vacancies are filled by Presidential appointment with Senate approval (a process some have humorously expanded)?

It’s all about balance, presumably. And the funny thing about balance is that it’s rarely a matter of stasis. Like driver’s education used to teach, staying between the lane markers requires constant adjustments, which means at any given point in time you might be straying a bit to the left or a bit to the right, but through constant corrections you hopefully stay in your own lane and don’t go veering off the road. Or into someone else.

Ginsburg apparently forgot this concept when she allowed herself to disparage the process of checks and balances and judicial appointments. And both she and her supporters conveniently forget (and the media certainly isn’t going to help us with a pertinent history lesson) that Ginsburg replaced someone else, a Supreme Court justice by the name of Byron White. White was appointed to the Supreme Court by John F. Kennedy. White cast a dissenting vote in Roe v. Wade, meaning he voted against legalizing abortion. He also voted not only to outlaw capital punishment but to reinstate it under allegedly better legal conditions.

So Ginsburg herself hardly carried on the ideological bent of her predecessor. I’m sure if someone had suggested to her at any point in her career that her duty was to carry on the ideological leanings of a particular predecessor, she would have dismissed the idea as ludicrous and odious. It’s unfortunate if she really did express a desire that the process should be short-circuited intentionally, and that others would take the opinion or wish of any single person, no matter how beloved, as a pretext for a call to violence on a national level.

Supreme Court appointments are usually passionate affairs, at least in the last 40 years. The decisions have long-term effects on judicial rulings that impact law on a national level. It’s right that people want to see someone they agree with given the honor of serving in this capacity. But it’s unconscionable that anyone would advocate violence or a deliberate disrespect of the mechanisms that protect all of us by rule of law. Our elected legislators are quite good at utilizing or inventing all manner of mechanisms to sway things in their preferred direction, and there has only been one Supreme Court Justice nominated to the position in an election year (early in 1988, rather than a month or two before the election). But to call for violence, as though the law of the land has now become mob rule or might-makes-right is a sign of just how dangerous our current cultural and societal situation is.

And a sign of how important the law has become – or not become – whether at the Supreme Court level or otherwise.

Copaganda and History

August 28, 2020

In light of yesterday’s post and the issues swirling in our country at the moment around police, this article detailing copaganda in the United States was very interesting. For those unaware (like myself, about an hour ago), copaganda is a term used to describe a perceived whitewashing of police and their work in our communities. It is a derogatory term, presuming that bucolic and benign depictions of police through programs such as Officer Friendly are patently false, deliberate efforts to brainwash the population (children in particular) into trusting police officers who, in reality, are an implied danger and threat to the population.

Copaganda of course belies a particular point of view. Whether it’s a full on distrust or disavowal of any form of authority or something more particular to the police force is a matter of degree. The underlying assumption is that the police are not there to benefit the population but rather to control and, by extension, fleece it in some way, although the article above doesn’t make clear at all what such whitewashing efforts actually accomplish and how they are dishonest. The fact that sometimes police officers do their jobs poorly – either because they are sinful humans who are prone to error or because they are sinful humans who sometimes deliberately do bad things – is taken as evidence that any positive understanding of police officers in general is false.

While I can’t remember any specific Officer Friendly presentations in school I no doubt had them. The name Officer Friendly is familiar even if the specifics of who might have talked to us and when are lost in the haze of aging memory.

What this and other articles fail to take into account is the rising level of violence in our society over the last century and particularly over the last 60-some years. I can understand why police officers and other law enforcement officials are a bit more reserved and cautious these days, especially in certain areas of town. They face threats that were likely impossible to even conceive of 60 years ago. While perhaps law enforcement has always been described as a field of service where you put your life on the line, it would appear in our country that has only grown more and more true over the passing decades.

But I’ll point out that depictions of police officers as friendly and well-intentioned is not simply a public relations move from the 60’s to 80’s, but rather how our culture as a whole viewed the police and, I would argue, everyone.

I’m philosophically opposed to the practice of binge-watching that seems all the rage these days. But the one series I am working my way through systematically (though slowly) is the original The Twilight Zone series. As a kid I loved when I could find this on Saturday afternoon reruns, and my fondness for the slightly tilted surreal reality hasn’t faded with time or with subsequent, disappointing efforts to revive the series. Combined with this is my sheer amazement at the output of Rod Serling and others associated with the show. Truly impressive from a creative standpoint!

The show is also a fascinating time capsule. It captures the sort of Everyman nuances from mid-century America, nuances that ideas like copaganda directly contradict and claim were false. What I see in those shows is a culture vastly different from today. It doesn’t shirk from portraying bad people, but it’s well-understood that they are bad and wrong and also atypical. The underlying assumption is that most people are honest and well-intentioned, trying to get through life. The trouble-makers and problems invariably end up being those who see themselves as somehow above such mundane matters, as exceptions to the rule, as smarter or better than everyone else. Their assumptions are invariably proven to be wrong, and not just wrong but dangerously wrong. Usually for themselves but also sometimes for many other people or all other people. If there’s a myth that needs dispelling, it might well be the myths of copaganda and exceptionalism that is so prevalent today rather than the boring assumptions of averageness 60 years ago.

In shows like The Twilight Zone, or Andy Griffith or any number of other successful mid-century shows, police are invariably depicted as basically good. Not perfect. Sometimes bumbling. Sometimes bad but in that case it’s clear the badness is their personal issue rather than a systemic problem with police as a concept. These might be futuristic, interstellar police such as in the first season episode The Lonely. They might be more ‘typical’ figures such as in the episode The Night of the Meek, where the policeman functions both as an Everyman kind of figure, a person just like you and I rather than a dark and sinister agent of nefarious groups and ideologies, but also as a protector, as the one charged with being objective when having to determine the truth in a given situation. We’re reminded that left to our own devices we are very capable of misreading others and accusing them of false things based on our preconceptions, and the local police officer who knows his beat and the people on it can serve as a protection for the marginalized. This is a theme also prevalent in Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?

It’s not that the series ignores the dangers of abused authority, as in The Obsolete Man. But perhaps closer to the horrors of Hitler and Mussolini, there’s an awareness of a profound difference between human frailty and flawed judgment in a moment of crisis, and a deliberate misuse of power to systematically oppress people. The series as a whole is far more prone to prowl and probe the dark corners of our souls and hearts as common citizens rather than to seek to pin blame on an external person or authority. After all, the abuses (perceived or otherwise) of a group in power are only possible because of the sinfulness and brokenness (as well as the ignorance) in our individual hearts and minds.

Just as telling in these shows is the relatively rare presence of police and other officials. People more often than not have to figure things out for themselves rather than rely on the opinions of anonymous experts or authority figures, whether that involves an interdimensional rescue or a group of neighbors coming to grips with imminent atomic holocaust. If the implication of copaganda is that we are victims of a police state, there’s very little presence of police in these shows. That overall absence also belies the fundamental assumptions that people are essentially trying to be decent and can often, if imperfectly, deal with situations on their own.

It will no doubt be claimed that shows such as The Twilight Zone represent only one slice of human experience, and that however accurate they might be in that one slice they don’t cover every possible experience. That’s true. As it’s true of everything, including copaganda. The fact that some people have negative experiences with the police does not in and of itself prove that all police or the concept of a police force is evil and wrong. Recent events in Seattle where the police were forced out in favor of a presumably better and more benevolent self-rule are good reminders this is true, and that without the restraint provided by an authority presence, we quickly revert, Lord of the Flies style, to a basic system of rule by force and the abuse of the weak and marginalized (even if that category now becomes made up of those who were formerly not marginalized).

It might also be argued that shows like these are less depictions of what is and more wishful thinking about what could or should be, or even of what once was. But I’d argue the depiction of law enforcement in such shows is not attempting to be exceptional or in any way mythic or imaginative. What makes the shows work is that police officers – whether supporting characters or the main character – are believable. The law enforcement characters are not the fantastical ones, and that even if Andy Griffith is a bit stylized, it’s not a character beyond the realm of reality for the viewers. He doesn’t completely contradict reality and experience, even if his even-keeled temperament never gets ruffled in the course of a typical 20-minute episode.

We’re sinful and broken. For some that sinfulness and brokenness is going to be more severe and pose a greater risk to others. In an industrialized and urban society (another factor copaganda doesn’t deal with) where most often neighbors don’t know each other very well and extended family bonds are often non-existent we apparently require a group of people to help maintain order and provide assistance in emergencies. Recent events have shown that though police officers are not perfect (as nobody is!) their presence is far better, ultimately, than an absence of their presence.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. This doesn’t mean there isn’t reason to question certain aspects of law enforcement. And it certainly doesn’t mean than when bad apples are discovered we don’t deal with them. It just means that the presence of bad apples doesn’t necessarily prove a theory of an entire system and everyone in it being corrupt and a threat to the people they claim to serve. And if some police officers have to deal with inner city violence and drug and human trafficking, it doesn’t mean that some others have far more docile beats where they are indeed able to assist in visiting schools and being a proactive positive influence in young people’s lives.

History Puzzles Solved

August 17, 2020

I love history. I don’t credit most of this to history teachers in primary and secondary school, though. I only recall two of my high school history teachers, who were both outstanding. But overall it seems difficult to make history interesting to kids.

So interesting historical puzzles tend to stand out in the muddle of dates and names and places. For me, the story of the disappearing colony of Roanoke is one such mystery. And now, somebody claims to have solved it.

The solution is that the missing settlers simply moved in with the friendly local Indian tribe, the Croatoans. They intermarried, and both archaeological finds and some historical statements seem to lend credence to this idea. It’s a plausible theory, so plausible it seems strange it wasn’t really discussed more prior to this.

Book Review: Martin Luther

August 11, 2020

Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World

by Eric Metaxas

Metaxas is a skilled writer, able to communicate clearly and maintain reader interest while plowing through the details of a person’s life. He demonstrated his skill in this to me first with his book on Bonhoeffer, and this biography of Luther doesn’t disappoint either even if it is more limited in depth due to the greater distance in time between Metaxas and Luther.

Although diehard Luther scholars will likely see this book as too cursory an overview, Metaxas does an admirable job of sketching Luther’s life not simply in terms of timeline and biographical details but also in contextualizing the events for the reader to better appreciate their impact at the time as well as on history ever since. Metaxas allows the Luther neophyte to glimpse the startling impact this monk had on Western Civilization in general as well as the Church. In doing so Metaxas adds to the Luther corpus that moves Luther from being sidelined as of importance only to the Church and Church history and alongside secular historical figures who also impacted Western civilization in profound ways.

Metaxas weaves excerpts from Luther’s writings and contemporaries of Luther seamlessly into the narrative, and his extensive citing or referencing of other Luther scholars demonstrates the seriousness of his own research into those who have undertaken similar works before him. His references are never obstacles to the flow of his narrative, and you can easily ignore the extensive footnotes in the back of the book if you’re so inclined.

My only criticism is that at the end of the book, as Metaxas moves from biography to interpretation of Luther’s larger legacy, the author briefly confuses his own ideas about Christians and Christianity in the West today with Luther’s actual thoughts on the subject, particularly on the issue of obedience even to injustice or unfair rulers. Metaxas’ closing arguments sound as though Luther endorsed rising up against unfair rulers when, as Metaxas clearly demonstrated earlier in his book, this was exactly the opposite of what Luther argued.

Clearly the idea of enduring suffering and injustice is so difficult to Western (and particularly American) minds that even a great biographer like Metaxas can momentarily forget how counter-cultural the call to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43-45) is.

Luther’s great witness was his willingness to suffer death if necessary in defense of the truth of God’s Word. He never considered himself above the temporal law but always subject to it. This further underscores the miraculous confluence of political and economic and religious currents orchestrated by God the Holy Spirit that Luther and the Gospel he set free once again might endure.