The Rev. William Barber at the Democratic National Convention 

I watched the national conventions of both major parties, although I am a member of neither. Of the many speeches over many days, some were exceptional. The one from the Rev. William Barber, for example, is worth watching, either for the first time or again.

The Rev. Barber’s political views, to be sure, sometimes (but not always) depart from my own libertarianism; the traditional and passionate commitment that underlies his speech, however, is admirable beyond any particular American politics. 

Budget First

Last week, Gov. Walker declined to answer Englishman’s question about whether he, Scott Waker, believed in evolution.

Today, in the Journal Sentinel, one learns that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos does believe in evolution

(I’ll bite: I was raised in a liturgical, high-church tradition that taught that the theory of evolution was consistent with faith.  I was well into my teens before I even met someone who contended otherwise.)  

Yet, let me ask this question, faith-and-evolution-reconciling man that I am: does it truly matter to the immediate politics of our state whether Walker or Vos believes similarly? 

If you’re a conservative, do you feel less inclined to either Walker’s or Vos’s policies knowing that Walker won’t answer affirmatively, but that Vos will, on a question about evolution?  

If you’re a liberal, do you feel more inclined to either Walker’s or Vos’s policies knowing that Walker won’t answer affirmatively, but Vos will, on a question about evolution?  

Let’s assume that Walker rejects evolution, and Vos accepts it.

What practical difference will an answer make – this year, in this budget, for the next biennium – to our state? 

The answer does have meaning; I see that. 

It’s simply that it doesn’t matter in a way that changes our politics (or should change our politics) between now and the next state fiscal year. 

There’s a budget proposal before us; it’s the allocation of those billions, for millions of Wisconsinites, that’s the key question in the months ahead.  

Presence Rather Than Partisan Answers

Years ago, during a controversy in Whitewater, someone told me a story about an official who, I learned, asked God’s help to relieve that official from a political burden.  The official delivered his request, apparently, in blunt, specific terms.

I don’t know whether the official received an answer to his prayers, or whether he believed that he did.  

In any event, one may be confident that the official did not receive an affirmative answer, as the subject of his request remained living and in good health.

I was reminded of this account, nearly forgotten to me, when I recently read the observation of a pastor about God’s possible reply to prayers: “we go to God for answers, but sometimes what we get is God’s presence.”

This seems profoundly right to me.  We misunderstand God, surely, when we believe that we are owed what we want, in the way that we want it. It’s a staggering arrogance that would lead us to believe that God, Himself, serves as a political consultant.   
   
Lincoln certainly understood this — it’s not possible to read his Second Inaugural without seeing that Lincoln held a divine, transcendent will to be fundamentally removed from particular, partisan concerns.

That leaves us, as just as it left Lincoln in his time, often to experience God’s presence alone.

Far from being too little, that presence is, by definition, then and there exactly what should be.

(Of views on the divine nature, I have enjoyed two books from David Bentley Hart.  On the historical ignorance of skepticism, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. On misunderstandings about the transcendent nature of divinity, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss.) 

As for our particular and partisan political questions, we would do well to manage them to the fullest of our own abilities.  

In fact, I believe, that responsibility is among the least that God expects of us

Merry Christmas


The Solemn Proclamation of Christmas, Midnight Mass 2011. Broadcast live from St George’s RC Cathedral, Southwark on 24th December 2011. Director of Music: Nick Gale, Soloist: Dominic Keating-Roberts. Text: New ICEL translation 2010.

Happy Easter 2013

A portion of the Urbi et Orbi Message, Easter, 2013:

We too, like the women who were Jesus’ disciples, who went to the tomb and found it empty, may wonder what this event means (cf. Lk 24:4). What does it mean that Jesus is risen? It means that the love of God is stronger than evil and death itself; it means that the love of God can transform our lives and let those desert places in our hearts bloom.

Happy Easter

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord” — and that he had said these things to her.

The Continuing Global Growth of Christianity

There’s a distinction between separation of church & state and secularization, although the distinction isn’t always grasped. America and France both have a separation of church from state, but France is the more secular society. Religion is more visible in American civil society, compared with France (if anything, that’s a considerable understatement).

There’s much worry among the religious about secularization in America, but I’d guess it’s unnecessary worry: America is and will remain a predominantly religious country.

Beyond America, this is even more true: religion, and particularly Christianity (yes, Christianity), is flourishing. Historians and demographers have noted this trend, among them Philip Jenkins, and Walter Russell Mead writes about it today in his fine blog:

A new report from the invaluable Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the most important source for information on religion in today’s world, will make a lot of people unhappy. The report looks at religious belief worldwide and finds that Christianity in the last one hundred years grew to become the world’s most widespread and diverse religion as well as the largest. Roughly one third of the world’s almost seven billion people are (or at least say they are) Christian. The second largest religion, Islam, claims about one fourth of the world’s population.

The demographic trends favor Christian expansion in Asia and Africa, and Mead speculates on the influence that expansion may have on democratization and human rights.

See Walter Russell Mead’s Via Meadia Blog.

For the report, see Global Christianity – A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’ s Christian Population.