Thursday, September 17, 2009

Where are the rational conservatives?

Townhall published a curiously medieval article by Marvin Olasky entitled Remarkable Providence. If we want to analyze the mounting disaster known as conservatism we need look no further than this.

Olasky informs us that as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted to ordain non celibate homosexuals last month, God sent a tornado to express his displeasure. Minneapolis hadn't seen a tornado in ages. This struck Olasky as significant. But Olasky's real complaint seems to be with the liberal media -- that is, with rational reporting.

Olasky complains that the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported, "The storm largely escaped the notice of the 2,000 Lutherans involved." The Associated Press made light of it: "A few jokes about God's wrath proved inevitable. 'We trust that the weather is not a commentary on our work,' said the Rev. Steven Loy." The New York Times failed to mention God's wonderful tornado at all. This is to be expected of the "extreme left."

So what is Olasky's remedy for this journalistic travesty? -- this ignorance of "God's miraculous mercy and persistent patience?" -- this modernist notion of material cause and effect? He'd like a return to "17th-century journalism." He offers the praise-worthy example of Minneapolis pastor and author John Piper who hit the nail on the head: "the tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. ... Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners."

Olasky -- a journalism professor at the University of Texas -- is an advocate of good old-fashioned journalism. He informs us: "In 1681 a general meeting of Massachusetts ministers urged careful coverage of 'Illustrious Providences,' including 'Divine Judgments, Tempests, Floods, Earth-quakes, Thunders as are unusual ...'" Actually, Olasky should elaborate on that. This quote is from Increase Mather's Remarkable Providences. The full quote goes as follows: "Such Divine Judgements, Tempests, Floods, Earth-quakes, Thunders as are unusual, strange Apparitions, or what ever else shall happen that is Prodigious, Witchcrafts, Diabolical Possessions, Remarkable Judgements upon noted Sinners, eminent Deliverances, and Answers of Prayer, are to be reckoned among Illustrious Providences." Mather's essay calls for documenting strange occurrences which, being unexplained and theologically useful, are easily attributed to God.

Within Mather's journalistic treasure we find an account of one Rebecca Greensmith ("a lewd and ignorant Woman") and her husband, Nathaniel, who were hung as witches. It served them right, too. Rebecca admitted "the Devil had frequently the carnal knowledge of her Body" while the obstinate husband "did not acknowledge himself guilty." And once hung, the sweet accuser, Ann Cole, "was restored to health, and has continued well for many years, approving her self a serious Christian."

Mather documented this case and others after being influenced by Joseph Glanvill (1636-1680). Glanvill was a bit forward thinking in his day, but let's not get carried away with applause. His essay, "The Agreement of Reason and Religion" argues that his form of Christianity was perfectly reasonable therefore non-conformists were perfectly unreasonable. There was no point in arguing with unreasonable people: "it will be impossible for sober men to have any success in their endeavors to convince them." This disagreement was more than rhetorical. Glanvill lived at a time when fragmenting religions led to civil wars. Some toleration was acceptable but a line had to be drawn. Glanvill drew that line at witchcraft. Those who scoffed at the reality of it were punching holes in the Bible and paving the way for atheism. With Saducismus triumphatus, Glanvill proposed to document real cases.

This influenced Increase Mather to do the same, which fueled the fire of the American witchcraft frenzy. And Increase influenced his son, Cotton, to continue the great work. This "17th century journalism" led to Cotton Mather's Wonders of the Invisible World which justified the Salem Witch trials: "I have indeed set my self to Countermine the whole Plot of the Devil against New-England, in every Branch of it, as far as one of my Darkness can comprehend such a Work of Darkness." That's fair and balanced reporting 17th century style.

Truly Olasky's call for a return to that type of reporting is just one more indication that conservatives are sinking fast. Their universe is a place of spooks, devils and mystery. Ignorance reigns. It's not weather patterns that cause tornadoes. It's God sending political messages.

God punished Minneapolis for ELCA sins. That's brilliant medieval analysis. I wonder what God had in mind when the I35 bridge went down? Surely there's a sin behind that one too. Good investigative journalism will find that sin -- or invent one. Imagine what we could justify with that sort of idiotic thinking. It's the logic of barbarians. Let's rejoice that there are a great many sins we can punish. Homosexuality is the tip of the iceberg. Witchcraft is still a biblical offense punishable by death. And it's not even listed among the Ten Commandments. There we find unbelief is a serious offense. We can look forward to many bad days. With luck, Christians will get tired of God punishing the many for the sins of a few. Government action will be required for protection of the community. That's how the Salem Witch trials were sold by wonderful 17th century journalism.

The conservative movement is sliding into the worst sort of superstition, the worst sort of cynicism. It's comfortable with a return to ignorance as long the masses can be manipulated.

Vote Republican. Bring on the Dark Ages.

-- Don Jindra