When the situation is explained to them, most Americans act responsibility motivated by both wholesome self-interest and concern for the neighbors. That at least is the takeaway from “a study published this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research.” Based on their “statistical analysis, five academic researchers find ‘no evidence’ that the sudden lifting of Wisconsin’s order “impacted social distancing, COVID-19 cases, or COVID-19-related mortality” during the 14 days that followed.” The authors go on to “suggest that perhaps most of Wisconsin’s 5.8 million people simply decided to act responsibly of their own accord. Stay-at-home orders might be first enacted ‘during a time where people perceived little risk and knew little about proper protective behavior.’ But by the time such orders are rescinded, residents ‘have had a chance to adjust.'” (Read the rest here)
The WSJ has two editorials that touch on themes important both for our life in Christ.
The first discusses the tendency to “weaponize” history. As the author, University of Oklahoma history professor Wilfred McClay puts it
…instead of expanding our minds and hearts, history is increasingly used to narrow them. Instead of helping us to deepen ourselves and take a mature and complex view of the past, history is increasingly employed as a simple bludgeon, which picks its targets mechanically—often based on little more than a popular cliché—and strikes.
The second editorial reflects on the reactions to the recent death of David Koch. Chandra Bozelko describes Koch as a model of “cooperation across ideological lines.”
Unfortunately, and as with those who would simplify history in the service of ideological purity, while the Koch brothers have been willing to work with others even “without agreeing on everything,” some refused to work with them or accept their donations.
Instead, there were those who insisted on a “homogeneity of thought,” even when doing so
…is a surefire way to arrest progress. Think of what gains would be lost if health-care providers, charities and advocacy groups—including New York-Presbyterian Hospital, the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund, Lincoln Center, the National Association of Defense Attorneys—boycotted the Koch brothers and their donations.
While we cannot in either or personal spiritual lives or in the life of the Church compromise on either the faith or morals, there is–or at least can be–room for us to cooperate with others of goodwill on a case to case basis.
In fact, we can even cooperate with those who have less than goodwill if we do so with the innocence of doves and the wisdom of serpents (see Matthew 10:16). Living as we do in a fallen world, this is unavoidable.
The pursuit of ideological purity is, in the secular realm, what sectarianism is in the ecclesiastical. Both are motivated by fear and a desire to control.
Such control, however, is illusory.
Clear and definitive boundaries don’t secure ideological or sectarian purity. Such boundaries are certainly necessary since without them we lose the sense of who we are as a political or ecclesiastical community.
But because people move back and forth between the Church or the party, there needs to be a certain openness in the boundaries.
And as people move between communities–basically, “us” and “them”–they bring new and foreign ideas into the community. It is these “new ideas” that must be eradicated if we are to protect our political or theological purity.
In other words, whether we are talking about a political philosophy or an ecclesial community, purity requires that we exert an increasingly strict amount of control over the members of the group.
At first, this will mean drawing increasing sharp boundaries between the group and the wider world. But as this proves to be less than successful, we need to turn inward and police our own ranks.
At first, this means correcting erroneous ideas. But soon, it means narrowing the range of acceptable differences and impose a conformity of thought and action.
We see this, as Bozelko and McClay point out, in the current intersectionality fab.
The history of the Church makes clear that while the concerns and language are different, Christians are not immune to similar social dynamics. What the world calls intersectionality, the Church calls heresy, sectarianism, and schism.
By way of conclusion, it’s worth pointing out that heresy and schism are caused not simply by those who reject the tradition of the Church as those who would defend it.
Where McClay asks, “Why study the past?” we can ask, why study not only history but theology and philosophy, the social and human sciences, and for that matter, literature, art, and the trades.
Our studies should not be, as it “is too often to gain ever better weapons to use in present battles, ever more unanswerable supports for our grievances.” When any discipline but especially the Gospel “becomes a club, it quickly loses its credibility.”
On both the left and the right, among traditionalists as much as progressives, we see crude “instrumentalizers” who would rob the Gospel of “its richness and complexity” as McClay says of history.
But done right, or rather preached rightly, the Gospel even more so than “history rescues precious memories from the darkness into which they would otherwise disappear, forging a sense of continuity with the past” and more than in the past.
Done right, or rather preached rightly, the Gospel and Holy Tradition connects us to God, to each other, and to the Kingdom that is to come.
Senator Phil Gramm writes:
When is the last time you heard a tax-reform advocate point out that today the top 10% of income earners in America pay a larger share of the overall tax burden than anywhere else in the developed world? The most recent study on the distribution of the tax burden among nations was conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2008, and covered all forms of taxes on income, including social-insurance taxes and state and local taxes. The top 10% of earners in the U.S. paid more than 45% of all taxes on income. In Sweden the top 10% of earners paid less than 27%; in France, less than 25%. Since Sweden and France both have large value-added taxes, a regressive levy, their top-10% earners bear an even smaller share of the total tax burden. The next time Bernie Sanders demands that the rich pay their fair share, somebody should ask him if he would be satisfied if the American rich paid the same share as their counterparts in Sweden and France.
Don’t expect to find much guidance on liberal education in the mission statements of leading American colleges and universities. They contain inflated language about diversity, inclusion and building a better world through social transformation. Missing are instructive pronouncements about what constitutes an educated person or on the virtues of mind and character that underlie reasoned inquiry, the advance of understanding, and the pursuit of truth. Instruction on the ideas, norms and procedures that constitute communities of free men and women devoted to research and study are also scarce to nonexistent.
Since many (probably most) American colleges and universities don’t teach the foundational texts and ideas of Western culture, the Church must. Or at least we should these things if we expect to see our young people grow to become mature and committed Orthodox Christians.